The pain of Manchester United’s comprehensive Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in May triggered a summer of upheaval at Old Trafford with star turns Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez seeking pastures new – but despite those defections the Premier League champions are still rightly among the leading fancies to land this season’s European crown.
During preparations for their opening Group B clash away to Turkish champions Besiktas, Red Rants caught up with United’s colossal defender Nemanja Vidic (arguably one of Ferguson’s best buys in the last 4 years) to find out what he makes of the new-look United and the prospects of Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit reaching a third successive Champions League final…
Did your Champions League triumph in 2008 help to ease the pain of defeat to Barcelona in Rome?
Winning the Champions League in Moscow has made it easier for us to accept in a way because we know that we have already done it before. However, the desire to win the trophy again never wanes. I can assure you that everyone at Manchester United will be very unhappy if we fail to win the competition this season. The same goes for any competition we enter.
So Manchester United still has the highest expectations despite the rebuilding process that has gone on within the squad since the final in Rome?
Our expectations have not gone down at all because of the rebuilding. Our goals are exactly the same – to win the Premier League and to win the Champions League. We genuinely believe our fans will have many reasons to be happy this season and it is our intention to make that happen.
How are the players feeling as you prepare for the European campaign?
Well, none of us at Manchester United are thinking about last season’s final defeat to Barcelona anymore. It is time to look forward and I myself am fully concentrated on the new season that lies ahead. I’m only thinking about how we can become the best team in Europe once again and I believe that is something we are more than capable of achieving in 2010.
Do you have any predictions for the 2009/10 Champions League?
It’s too early for predictions because the final stages are so far away and the Champions League proper hasn’t even begun yet. However, generally I would agree with the experts that it’s between Real, Barcelona and the Premier League quartet. The Premier League is the best league in the world, so it’s logical that all the English clubs will have good odds of winning the competition while Barca are reigning champions and Real have quickly built a great team. There’s also always a surprise team in the Champions League every season too, so we really should be very careful with our predictions!
Losing Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez must have been felt strongly in the Manchester United dressing room. How much will you miss them?
It is true that we will miss Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez for their goals. We cannot deny that. However, this United squad really has enormous potential because we have so many talented youngsters, who are improving all the time. The club will continue to aspire to all the biggest goals no matter who leaves us. We can still win all the trophies on offer this season.
Luis Antonio Valencia is under pressure to fill the gap left by Ronaldo. Is he capable of doing that?
No one at Old Trafford expects Luis to take on Ronaldo’s role in the team but he has many qualities of his own that will help us. I believe he will become an important member of our team over the coming season.
And what impact can Michael Owen have in a Manchester United shirt?
Michael has proven his quality through the years so I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be successful. He can help us a lot, so we are all very happy to have him in our team. He is an important signing for the club. Manchester United has always had fantastic forwards and certainly we have such a situation in the current team as well. No matter who plays, I’m sure we will be lethal in front of goal. I believe Valencia and Owen will make our team better this season. They are very good players who will help us improve.
What is it like having to mark Michael Owen in training?
As a defender I can say with some certainty that it is really tough to mark Owen. He’s dangerous from all positions so you always need to be focused and on your toes. I’m sure our fans will soon realize that as well and see the best of him. I am pleased to be on his team.
Of all the strikers you have faced in the Champions League which have been the best?
It’s tough to pick out one name when it comes to Europe’s best strikers but if I could pick three I’d select Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. These guys are at the top of their game.
I’m not bothering myself with comparisons between myself and Jaap Stam but it’s nice to hear such things. It feels good being compared to a player of such high calibre. He was a giant at United and a player I have a lot of respect for but I’ll try to make my own mark.
How do you find living in England?
Well, I’m not an English boy! However, I have grown accustomed to the lifestyle and I’m enjoying myself in Manchester. I always try to give the best. Winning three major titles in one season is not something that would happen every day and last season we won the league again. Everything can turn around overnight, so it’s really important that you always think only about the next match.
How do you spend your spare-time?
I really don’t have much free time in Manchester. On few rare occasions the club gives us two days free and we usually spend that time with our families. More or less I spend all my free time with my family. Sometimes people come to visit me, but that’s about it. I try to live a decent life. I don’t go to extravagant places and I don’t expose myself too much. My life is really very normal: training-restaurant-home!
Do you think Manchester United have any defensive issues to sort out this season?
No. The United defence is as hard as a rock. We have played together for a few years now and are a tight-knit unit. The manager demands total concentration and a fighting approach. All the players know their duties. Ferdinand, Brown, Neville and O’Shea are all seasoned professionals who know what it’s all about. We won’t win all the time, but we will always give our all.
On paper it has been argued that Manchester United look weaker this year. Will you prove them wrong?
Perhaps on paper we are weaker this season but on the pitch it is a different matter. Together, we have the determination and ability to prove to everyone that we can still accomplish all our goals this season. The season is very long and we know what it means to be a Manchester United player. Everyone gives their all against us. But that’s no problem for us. We are paid loads of money to win and that is what we intend to do.
We thank Nemanja Vidic for his time but before we end this, we’ll leave you with a compilation video of the man from Serbia…