Vidic without a flaw - except his candour

Salute to Stam may cause red faces but United are buying a formidable defender
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The Independent Online

Nobody who has seen Nemanja Vidic play would doubt his willingness to put his foot in, but he seems also to be developing an unfortunate habit of putting his foot in it. He is an engaging figure, his manner as uncomplicated as his approach to football, but as Roy Keane recently discovered, brute honesty is not necessarily the best policy at Manchester United.

It may have drawn laughs when, at his first press conference after signing for Spartak Moscow, he replied to a question about how much Russian he knew by saying the only word he had learned in his first few days in the country was "probki" (traffic jams), but his candour about his move to United threatens to be rather more problematic.

First there were the comments from his agent suggesting Vidic was looking forward to solving United's problems in central defence, which are hardly likely to go down well with Mikaël Silvestre and Rio Ferdinand. Last week, he was reluctant to say anything about United beyond the fact they are "a very big club" for fear of "jinxing" the move, but, turning to the simpler matter of the players he admires, he immediately, if unconsciously, highlighted the flaw he has been bought to address. "Jaap Stam," he said, "is an exemplary footballer."

Yes, United fans may muse, he was, and arguably the club have not been the same since he was sold to Milan in 2001, apparently because Sir Alex Ferguson felt his autobiography undermined team morale. There have been other problems, of course, not least the ageing of Keane, but whether it originated with him or not the criticism attributed to Vidic is true - the central pillars of United's defence are not as solid as they might be. Even when Ferdinand is not distracted, Silvestre can be exposed purely because he is so short for a centre-back; which is why he is expected to switch to left-back for Vidic.

Certainly, the Serbian's physique is more imposing than the Frenchman's. He is a fraction under 6ft 4in, and weighs just under 14 stones, but, more than that, he is a player to whom taking responsibility comes so naturally that he became the captain of Red Star when just 21.

"As a player he does not have a single defect," says Zoran Filip-ovic, the coach under whom he flourished in Belgrade. "He just needs to retain his focus for the whole 90 minutes and he'll have no problems. He's one of the best central defenders in Europe."

He has proved that not only in Belgrade and Moscow but also at national level, forming an integral part of the Serbia-Montenegro defence that conceded just one goal in 10 qualifying games as they reached the World Cup at the head of a group that also included Spain. "He deserves a transfer like this," said his national captain, Mladen Krstajic. "He's going into a league that will suit him. There are not many central defenders like him in Europe, especially not at the age he is. If he avoids injury I'm sure he'll have a fantastic career in England."

Others from Eastern Europe have wilted amid the physical-ity of the English game, but Vidic's love of the physical battle augurs well. "The English League is very different from any other league," said Filipovic. "They play very hard football with a lot of physical contact, and the tempo is very high. Manchester [United] will expect a lot, but I'm sure Nemanja will fulfil their expectations."

Nor is the disaffection of some United fans or the reported £7.2m fee likely to faze him. Vidic is, after all, a player whose car was smashed up by Red Star fans because he appeared in a photo-shoot with Sasa Ilic, the captain of their rivals Partizan, while his home town of Uzice, about 120 miles south-west of Belgrade, was hit during the US bombing. "That was frightening," he said. "A bomb exploded about 500 metres from our family home."

The cynical may note that after Red Star and Spartak, United are another club living in the shadow of a recent golden age, but Vidic has no such concerns. "Why," he asked, "would I not be happy to join the best team in the world?"

JANUARY SALES TALK

ARSENAL

Probable deals: Central midfielder remains a priority but Arsène Wenger wants to wait until May. Didier Zokora's agent believes his client will be at Arsenal by 31 January but that's been denied. Wenger may bid for Theo Walcott and remains interested in Emmanuel Adebayor.

Possible deals: Wenger has watched Feyenoord's midfielder Hossam Ghaly and Salomon Kalou. Dirk Kuyt won't leave until summer.

ASTON VILLA

Possible deals: Attempts to sign Robert Huth have been rebuffed. If Gareth Barry goes to Newcastle that would generate cash. Ulises De La Cruz wants out.

BIRMINGHAM CITY

Probable deals: Steve Bruce will be given money but will also have to sell. Walter Pandiani and Mario Melchiot can leave. A striker is a priority. Preston's David Nugent and SheffUnited's Steve Kabba are top targets.

Possible deals: Izale McLeod of MK Dons is cheap option. Bruce eyeing West Brom's Robert Earnshaw and Fulham's Sylvain Legwinski.

BLACKBURN ROVERS

Probable deals: Zurab Khizanishvili could sign on a permanent deal.

Possible deals: Could battle Everton and Birmingham for David Nugent.

BOLTON WANDERERS

Probable deals: Need short-term cover while players are at the African Nations' Cup; defender Abdoulaye Meite is the top target. Jussi Jaaskelainen is delaying on a new deal - could be intriguing.

Possible deals: May try for Nicky Butt from Birmingham and Feyenoord's Shinji Ono.

CHARLTON

Probable deals: Bids for Dean Ashton and Marcus Bent likely, Antti Niemi is a target or, alternatively, Hull's Boaz Myhill. Cash could be generated by a raft of departures - Jason Euell is top of the list.

Possible deal: Lee Bowyer from Newcastle.

CHELSEA

Probable deal: Maniche should join on loan this week with a view to a two-year, £5m deal in summer. May be forced to bid for Southampton's Theo Walcott.

EVERTON

Probable deals: Striker David Nugent is favourite. David Moyes would like Sean Davis and is considering Angelo Bassinas from Panathinaikos. Marcus Bent may leave.

Possible deals: Moyes might sell Per Kroldrup, sign Celtic's Chris Sutton and bring back Thomas Gravesen - but wages are a problem.

LIVERPOOL

Probable deals: Priorities are clear - a centre-back and a right-winger. Cesar and Fabrizio Coloccini from Deportivo La Coruña and Daniel Agger are on the list,Chris Riggott is not available.

Possible deals: Move for Simao Sabrosa has faltered; attention may turn to Anderlecht's Christian Wilhelmsson and, more importantly, Real Madrid's Juanfran. Wildcard could be Jermaine Pennant.

Completed deal: Villarreal's Jan Kromkamp signing with Josemi in opposite direction.

MANCHESTER CITY

Probable deals: Bid for Dean Ashton. If it fails Marcus Bent or Emmanuel Adebayor. Albert Reira should sign on loan from Espanyol.

Possible deals: Fulham's Steed Malbranque. Sell Robbie Fowler.

Completed deal: Thomas Haapala a midfielder from MyPa has joined on loan.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Possible deals: Alex Ferguson is monitoring Gravesen and Michael Carrick but won't get the latter until summer at earliest. Expect Liam Miller to leave while Mikael Silvestre's fortunes will be interesting.

Completed deal: Centre-back Nemanja Vidic has signed for £7.2m from Spartak Moscow.

MIDDLESBROUGH

Probable deals: Appear certain to return for Sporting Lisbon's Rudolphe Douala. Would like to sell Szilard Nemeth, Massimo Maccarone and Ray Parlour. If they go, a bid for Sean Davis.

Possible deals: Didier Agathe has been mentioned but Leeds areoffering more.

NEWCASTLE UNITED

Probable deals: Hearts' Robbie Neilson. Steve Carr, Amdy Faye and Bowyer can go.

Possible deals: Villa's Gareth Barry under consideration. A return for Jonathan Wood-gate has not been ruled out.

PORTSMOUTH

Probable deals: Striker Emmanuel Olisadebe to be offered pay-as-you-play deal. Marcel Desailly could sign until the end of the season. Moves for Sean Davis or Michael Brown. Departures? Plenty, but a surprise could be Laurent Robert to Benfica.

SUNDERLAND

Possible deals: Paltry funds for Mick McCarthy. Linked to Celtic's Stephen Pearson and Alan Thompson.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Possible deals: A bid for Southampton's Theo Walcott but will wait until summer for Dirk Kuyt. May be a window of departures, with Pedro Mendes returning to Portugal and Sean Davis wanting out. Robbie Keane may stay, Andy Reid can go.

WEST BROM

Probable deals: Centre-back Badou Kere expected to sign from Charleroi, Amica Wronki's Jaroslaw Bieniuk and Luton's Carlos Edwards considered. Permanent deals to be agreed for Russell Hoult and Jason Koumas.

WEST HAM

Probable deals: A striker is a priority and they have cash to spend. Benni McCarthy set to stay in Porto. Bids are more likely for previous targets Emmanuel Adebayor and Andy Johnson. Dean Ashton is being considered.

Possible deals: Phil Jagielka has been a target before but Sheffield United would be loath to sell.

Completed deals: Striker Yaniv Katan signed on a free transfer from Maccabi Haifa.

WIGAN ATHLETIC

Probable deals: Will continue to monitor Dean Ashton but £7m price tag is too high. Another striker is a priority.

Completed deal: Defender Paul Scharner has signed from Brann Bergen for £2.5m.

Jason Burt and Matt Denver

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