Ferguson wins race to snap up £7m Vidic

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The Glazer family may have a reputation for being the Premiership's Scrooges but the new owners of Manchester United sanctioned a £7m Christmas Day spending spree yesterday that allowed Sir Alex Ferguson to sign the highly sought-after Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic from Spartak Moscow.

In the biggest single pay-out for a player since the Glazers assumed control of United in May, the club paid close to Spartak's asking price of £8m to secure the services of the 24-year-old who has also been the subject of great interest from Liverpool. Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, had identified the Serb as a potential new partner for Jamie Carragher at the centre of defence, but United's decisive intervention in the transfer talks last week will mean he has to re-think.

The transfer window does not open until Sunday, but Vidic will become a United player then, provided he completes a medical this week and agrees personal terms. His signing shows that Ferguson regards his defence in urgent need of strengthening with left-back Gabriel Heinze out for the entire season and the central partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Mikael Silvestre lacking the reliability of three years ago.

With Vidic likely to come straight into the side, the natural move for Silvestre is to left back where United have struggled this season in the absence of the injured Heinze and Quinton Fortune ­ and the departure of Phil Neville. John O'Shea and Kieran Richardson have both covered in that position but Silvestre will bring greater experience, as well as an attacking threat, to the left side.

Vidic has emerged in the last two seasons after joining Spartak Moscow from Red Star Belgrade in the summer of 2004 and has played a key role in Serbia and Montenegro's qualification for the World Cup finals. Vidic was part of a Serbian back four that conceded just one goal in Group Seven and finished ahead of Spain.

He had been the subject of interest from Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham ­ as well as Fiorentina in Italy ­ but United entered negotiations at the end of last week and chief executive David Gill put the finishing touches to the deal yesterday when Spartak accepted the £7m fee.

Vidic is expected in Manchester after today's match against West Bromwich Albion to take a medical.

The Glazers spent just £6m on Korean midfielder Park Ji-Sung and Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar during last summer and United were comprehensively beaten by Chelsea in the race to sign Michael Essien who eventually left Lyon for £23m. There will be many, Liverpool among them, who will feel that United have overspent by paying £7m for a relatively unproven 24-year-old but the transfer reveals just how determined Ferguson is to strengthen his defence. The deal shows that despite the £540m debt that the Glazers assumed to buy United, and the club's failure to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions' League, they are still prepared to invest in the side for the remainder of the Premiership season.

United's losses from the Champions' League revenue, relative to what they budgeted to make, will only be around £3m and now that they do not have to sign players who are not "cup-tied" in the competition, it means their choice is unrestricted.

The signing is also a great show of faith in Ferguson himself who would not be backed with the kind of funds that the Glazers have made available if the club did not believe that there was a chance of him staying in the job beyond this summer. He will be unlikely to address the chronic shortage of a specialist holding midfielder in his side before the summer when a move for Michael Ballack or Michael Carrick will be more achievable.