Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidić may have suffered disappointment this week, with his Serbian team knocked out of the European Championships by Slovenia on Tuesday night, but the loss could be the player’s gain after the 29-year-old hinted at retirement from the international game. Just as Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-Sung quit international football well before their club careers concluded – and Paul Scholes’ famously left England behind aged just 29 – Vidić could extend his Old Trafford tenure by formally ending his time with Serbia.
Serbia’s 1-0 defeat in Maribor ensured that Estonia finished second behind Italy in Group C to reach the Euro 2012 play-offs. Dare Vršič scored the only goal late in the opening period of a game that Serbia had to win. Vidić’s pain in defeat was exacerbated when the United defender missed a second-half penalty that could have swung the game in Serbia’s favour.
“I took responsibility and I am aware of the consequences of a poorly executed penalty,” Vidic told local paper Blic.
“It was agreed that I take the kick. I wanted to take responsibility. I will bear the consequences of course. If I had scored the game would flowed on an entirely different course.
“I’m sorry that I will never play at the European Championships because the next qualification [tournament] will be in years. It’s time for a change of generations and for some older players to say goodbye to the Serbian jersey.”
Vidić has appeared 56 times for the White Eagles since making his début in October 2002. The former Spartak Moscow player formed a part of the “Famous Four” defence, which conceded just one goal during ten 2006 FIFA World Cup qualification matches. But along with Mladen Krstajić, Ivica Dragutinović and Goran Gavrančić, it was a team that failed to sparkle in Germany, losing all three group matches.
Indeed, Vidić’s pride at representing his country, where nationhood is still in its relative infancy, has often ended in disappointment. Qualification for the 2010 World Cup in also ended in group stage failure, while the Eagles failed to reach either the 2004 or 2008 Euro tournaments. The latest disappointment, it seems, is simply too much for a player who, fitness permitting, still has years at the very top of European football.
Disappointment may be palpable in Belgrade but confirmation of Vidić’s Serbian retirement will, without doubt, be music to Sir Alex Ferguson’s ears, who has never enjoyed the burden placed on his players by the international game. While there is no evidence of the Scot’s intervention in the aforementioned retirements, the decisions made by Scholes, Giggs and Park have helped each player and the club immeasurably.
Meanwhile, Giggs famously played just 64 international games in 16 years as an international, with the winger repeatedly missing friendly matches early in his career. Retirement from the Welsh team more than four years ago has ensured Giggs is still turning out for the Reds well into his late 30s.
Vidić will benefit too, at an age when injuries may become an increasing concern for a player dependent on his physicality. After all, the defender turns 30 in late-October and is only now returning from the latest in a growing number of injuries over the past three seasons. The latest injury – to the player’s calf – has restricted the defender to just one Premier League start this season. Repeated thigh injuries during the 2009/10 campaign ensured that the giant defender appeared in just 33 matches in all competitions.
Indeed, removal of the international game from Vidić’s roster will free the player of around 30 games over the final three years of the player’s current contract. Additional breaks during the season and a full summer rest will do nothing but ensure Vidić spends more time on the Old Trafford pitch, captaining United to ever more domestic and European glory.
Vidić’s decision, if formally confirmed, lies is in stark contrast to that made by Rio Ferdinand, who is willing to fight on for a place in the England squad. The 32-year-old Londoner was left out of Fabio Capello’s squad for the recent game against Montenegro, with the Italian warning Ferdinand must play more regularly if the former Leeds United man is to regain his place.
Indeed, repeated injury and the progression of younger defenders Chris Smalling and Phil Jones is placing Ferdinand under increasing pressure both with England and at United. Ferdinand may well suffer if he continues to chase both.
Meanwhile, Vidić’s apparent decision to hand over the international reigns to younger players and concentrate on a club career will only increase the Serbian’s importance to United.