Nemanja Vidić does not keep any of his trophies at home. The former Manchester United defender, who won five Premier League titles and a Champions League crown in nine seasons with the football team, says all his prizes are packed up in boxes. “When I am 68 and can’t do anything more, I will put them up," he says, laughing.
The charismatic 36-year-old, who retired from professional football in 2016, does not miss playing. He remains in touch with the game—he is working towards getting his football coaching pro licence. But for the most part, he says, he is a “taxi driver" ferrying his children to school, practice, etc.
In Mumbai last week for the Football Movement conference, hosted by the Premier League (PL), India on Track and the UK department for international trade, Serbia-born Vidić, wearing a white PL T-shirt and beige jeans, spoke about the global melting pot that the league represents “It’s a shame we don’t have a player (from India) in the Premier League. You have to invest in certain areas because children these days are not doing enough sports," he said.
On life post retirement
I live in Italy, and am trying to improve my Italian. I travel, visit other clubs, because my idea is to get into management. I am doing the things I could not before, like golf, tennis, sports without contact, and skiing. I really enjoy these years, there’s no stress. The last three years of my career were stressful. When I retired, I had relief.
On learning a new language
How many international football players are in the Premier League? You have to be able to speak more languages if you have to be the manager. That’s the manager’s job—to get the best out of players. So they can understand what you want from them.
The impact of the war in Serbia on his career
During the first war, I was 10. I didn’t feel much because the war was not in my town. It was in Bosnia—150km from me. When I was 17-18, we had the problem in Kosovo. That was a difficult time, of uncertainty. We stopped playing football for three months. When you are young, you don’t think much. If it happened when I was 33, I would have been much more worried.
On getting accustomed to the Premier League
It was difficult in the beginning —especially because I came (from Spartak Moscow) in January when it was break time in Russia. I didn’t have that many quality players playing against me (in Russia). After six months (in England), I realized the only way to adapt is to work hard. I started more gym.
I remember coming from the dressing room to the field and I didn’t see the players. One day, two days, two weeks.... I didn’t know where they were and I started “chasing" them around the training field. I saw (Cristiano) Ronaldo on the training pitch doing laps, practising free kicks. Rio (Ferdinand) in the gym, (Ryan) Giggs doing yoga.... Everyone does extra after, so I had to start working harder.
On his toughness as a defender
People think because of my (stern) expression that I am moody.... But my face was more (like that) because of focus, concentration, not thinking about what’s happening outside. Suppose I play 85 minutes of perfect football, with the best tackles ever, but if in the 86th minute, the opponents score a goal and it’s my fault, all the hard work is gone. I liked to win, not that I needed to look beautiful running with the ball.
The role of a defender
It’s changed significantly, especially since our time. I am still for proper defenders, with their job only to defend. It’s increased, this expectation of defenders having to do more than defend. It’s difficult to play from the back and then switch.... I don’t know many players who have achieved this.
On his celebrated partnership with Ferdinand
You have to have a partnership. They bring security and stability (to the team). When you play with someone all the time, you know their best and their weaknesses. We adapted to each other. In the beginning, we talked a lot, had a good relationship outside the pitch. In the end, we didn’t talk at all! We just knew what we have to do. We are like twins (laughs).
On the next generation of defenders
This generation of defenders gets compared to me and Rio. We were lucky because we were successful. You need trophies. If they (the current lot of players) did, then you would see all other players at United differently. With results, there will be more respect.