Sir Alex Ferguson voiced some confusion yesterday about precisely how much Manchester United paid out for Nemanja Vidic in a deal which saw him make his Manchester United debut five years ago this weekend. "Pounds?" he replied when the figure of £7m was put to him. "Are you sure? I don't think so. I think euros maybe. I think it was euros actually."
The £7m sum has always been considered accurate, though the value of the player to United has never been so clear as now. Ferguson would not go so far as to agree that Vidic is his best-value defender of all. But he agreed that, much as Arsène Wenger was about to say in north London, United's ascendancy – ahead of Manchester City on goal difference with two games in hand – was "down to the back four" and the Serb's display against Peter Crouch at White Hart Lane last Sunday typified his contribution to that unbeaten run.
"Nemanja is a warrior," Ferguson reflected. "He's a natural defender and he loves defending – that's the great thing about him. There have been a few defenders like him over the years and, when the ball comes into the penalty box, you know that the one person who wants to get it clear will be Nemanja, as he did last Sunday. He was so powerful and positive in everything he went for."
Ferguson is putting some of his past disputes behind him. Ruud van Nistelrooy, who left Old Trafford under a cloud in 2006 and has never been mourned by the United manager, revealed in the Dutch magazine Voetbal International yesterday that he had texted Ferguson in an attempt to make his peace and found him receptive. "I had been thinking about it for a while and talking it through with my wife," the 34-year-old said. "She suggested I sent Ferguson a text message to see if he was willing to talk so I sent him a message asking if I could call and he replied to say 'OK, call me at this date and time'. I rang him and he answered and said, 'OK, go ahead'. I said I wanted to apologise for what had happened and he said, 'OK, I appreciate that, when we meet again it will be OK'."
But the manager's thoughts are on the future. Though the appeal of paying £42 for an away ticket at Old Trafford is not what it was for Birmingham fans when the club was promoted back to the top flight in May 2009 – there is a reduced away allocation of 1,300 for this afternoon's game – the visitors will pack five into a midfield and seek to make the fixture another attritional struggle. United have scored one goal in each of their past five matches against the Blues. A good day to disprove Wenger's theories.