Former Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic believes the club will have a choice to make between Jose Mourinho and Ryan Giggs if they decide to replace Louis van Gaal as manager.
Van Gaal has come under pressure during a disappointing season at Old Trafford and United legend Giggs and ex-Chelsea and Real Madrid manager Mourinho have emerged as two of the frontrunners to take charge if and when the 64-year-old Dutchman leaves.
Speaking exclusively to the BBC at his home in Milan, in his first interview since retiring, Vidic says former team-mate Giggs understands the workings of United after nearly three decades at the club, but rates Mourinho as one of the game’s best ever managers.
“I like the idea of Giggsy, but Mourinho has had success in the past,” the 34-year-old said. “It’s a hard choice. Is Giggsy ready or not? He knows. The club knows. I believe they will have an honest conversation.
“I want someone who knows the club and does the best for the club. I shared a dressing room with him. I know he will do that.
“Mourinho plays football in a certain way, that is well known, but I definitely respect Mourinho as a manager. He is one of the greatest ever, along with Pep Guardiola and Sir Alex Ferguson.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Vidic also:
- Said he received approaches from the United States and England before announcing his retirement in January
- Revealed he is in the process of earning his coaching badges and hopes one day to manage in England
- Called former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo “an example for how football players should train and live”
- Said the pressure of the David Moyes era was “twice the pressure we had under Ferguson”
- Said he believes the emerging young players at United can turn the club’s fortunes around
Vidic announced he was ending his playing career in January, 10 days after he had been released from his contract by Inter Milan.
He received offers to join Major League Soccer, while there was interest in him from elsewhere, including a tentative approach from a club in England.
However, after suffering major knee and back injuries, the Serb never contemplated extending his career.
“It was the right time,” he said. “I didn’t think I could give 100%. It was better not to push, play longer and make myself even more hurt.”
He explained he did not want to return to England, a place he had given “the best years of my career”, and “not perform in the same way I did for United”.
Vidic at United:
- Premier League titles: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013
- Champions League title: 2008
- League Cup titles: 2006, 2009 and 2010
- Fifa Club World Cup titles: 2008
Vidic is still getting used to retirement. He has chosen to remain in Milan with his wife and children and has even started to learn how to ski – something he could not think about when he was still a player.
Offers of television punditry work have come in but in the long term he is keen on following former United club-mate Gary Neville into management.
A future United manager?
Vidic has completed his A and B Licences and is looking at beginning a Pro-Licence course next year, possibly at the FA’s St George’s Park national training centre.
“I started doing my badges four years ago,” he said. “At the time I was playing for Manchester United and working with probably the best manager ever in Sir Alex Ferguson.
“He asked a lot from his players, but he believed in them. If he said something, I could see it in his eyes that he believed it. Even when I might not believe, he did. It was his greatest strength.”
Sir Alex on Vidic:
- “How many centre-halves can you name who actually like defending? Vidic liked it. He loved the challenge of sticking his head in there. You could tell that the thrill of contesting those 50-50 balls animated him.”
Vidic believes management is “something I think I can do well”, adding: “I would like to try to be a manager in English football.”
Does that mean United?
“It is a dream. If you ask any United player if they want to be manager one day, they will say ‘yes’, but I am a long way from that.”
Memories of Moscow?
The greatest night of Vidic’s career came in the Moscow rain on 21 May, 2008, when United prevailed on penalties in an all-English Champions League final against Chelsea.
“I thought we had lost,” said Vidic, recalling John Terry striding up to take the fifth spot-kick, knowing Chelsea would win if he scored.
Instead, Terry slipped as he put boot to ball, his shot hitting the post and sending the shootout to sudden death.
“It was between me and Giggsy who was next,” says Vidic. “I was stood next to him thinking: ‘Please say you are going to take it’.”
Giggs did – and scored. Then Edwin van der Sar saved from Nicolas Anelka and the Champions League was won.
Looking at a picture of the wild celebrations, Vidic spots something.
“See this blood on Anderson’s head? That is my teeth. We were jumping all over the place, he hit me in my tooth and caught his head. Crazy.”
The best professional?
Between 2007 and 2009, Manchester United won three Premier League titles, a European Cup, the Club World Cup, a League Cup and two Community Shields.
They also reached a final and semi-final of the Champions League and a final and a semi-final of the FA Cup.
It represents the most concentrated spell of success in United’s history.
Cristiano Ronaldo contributed 91 goals over those three seasons and won the Ballon D’Or in 2008.
“Cristiano was a funny guy,” said Vidic. “He liked to laugh and make jokes. Even to take jokes.
“Sometimes he didn’t take them happily, but he was still pushing for them. He loved to dance, which was great for the dressing room.
“But he was also one of the best professionals I ever saw. He was committed to football. He had big expectations for himself and wanted to achieve great things. That drove him to train hard to improve. For that I respect him a lot.
“There were a lot of very talented players – better than I was – but they were not committed to football.
“They would not give 100% of their capabilities. They don’t work outside of the training pitch. That is why Ronaldo did what he did. He is an example for how football players should train and live.”
Life under Moyes?
It is less than three years since Vidic lifted the Premier League trophy for United in Ferguson’s last season at the club, but it’s fair to say neither has come close to scaling those heights since.
For United, the downward spiral has been worse than envisaged. David Moyes, Ferguson’s replacement, lasted just 10 months before he was sacked. United went on to finish seventh that season.
So what went wrong?
“We felt the new manager would get time,” said Vidic. “But after one month, the pressure started.
“It was twice the pressure we had under Ferguson. People questioned David Moyes – and now Louis van Gaal – in a way they never would have done before.
“Moyes changed certain things. Some players asked why. But that is a natural reaction. The media said it was a problem. It was never a problem. He tried hard, but it didn’t happen. The pressure increased even more.
“When you are manager of a club like United, in the time we live, no one gives anyone time to achieve anything.
“Those outside forces created a bad energy. When that happens it reflects on the team and the fans and it becomes a problem.
“So, for all the years of success and good memories, I have this one: Finishing seventh. It was a bad way to leave the club.”
The future for United?
United sit sixth in the Premier League with nine games left in the season and crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage.
With three United-supporting sons at home, Vidic still watches events at Old Trafford with keen interest and believes there have been signs of recovery, particularly with youngsters such as Marcus Rashford coming through and playing for the first team.
“It is a hard time for United, not to be challenging,” he said. “All clubs come to this situation. Then it is important to see some lights.
“In the last few matches, you can see the potential of the young players. They are the lights. But you also need the trophies. That is when you wonder which way you should go.
“These young players should definitely be given a chance, but you also need experienced players who have won these trophies already.
“It is complicated. It is easier to talk about that actually doing it. But I hope they soon get back on track and be what people expect, which is challenging for the league title and the Champions League.”