- Premier League
Vidic's departure adds to Moyes' challenge
Manchester United's shopping list in full: Defence, and midfield, with further players comfortable and dangerous on the flanks. For the moment, the forward line should be OK, though it might be nice if Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney would pass to each other on occasions other than kick-offs, as happened last week at Stoke.
PS: A captain is now required, as well.
Nemanja Vidic leads the clear out as refurbishment begins. The Serbian warlord exits as a much reduced force. The cruciate knee ligament injury he suffered in snowbound Basle in December 2011 robbed him of his pace, and the comebacks have been intermittent since. Vidic played just 23 matches last season, 10 the year before that, and his 21 outings under David Moyes have in no sense replicated the dominance of his best years at United.
Perhaps nobody else in the Premier League era has matched Vidic's aerial dominance. A combination of anticipation and all-round dirtiness has robbed many a striker at the last gasp.
His Christmas Day 2005 signing from Spartak Moscow was a gift to United. A meek start was swiftly converted into monstering indispensability. An injury against Blackburn in March 2007 looked to have robbed United of the ballast they required to lift their first title in four seasons but Vidic returned, perhaps ahead of schedule. A horror show in that year's Champions League semifinal at AC Milan suggested so but within a year, Vidic was key to Sir Alex Ferguson's second European Cup triumph.
Only in November's home victory against Arsenal was Vidic's former self sighted. It looked a turning point for club and player. Instead, it proved a false dawn for both. In United's swim against the tide, Vidic is among those struggling to keep his head above water. A silly sending-off at Chelsea was the nadir. It terminated a performance in which he had struggled terribly. That added-time hack at Eden Hazard was a dereliction of a skipper's duty, a reflection of a player failing to fight the dying of the light.
That may be the moment that club and player decided that each should go their separate ways. United can take a leading earner off their wage bill, Vidic can seek a lucrative contract to see out the final years of his career. United had the best of him.
Back in the summer of 2010, it looked as if Vidic would be joining Cristiano Ronaldo, with whom he had a close relationship, at Real Madrid. Instead, he signed a new contract that was accompanied by the captain's armband, and led United to their 19th title. By the time of their 20th last May, such influence had waned, as Rio Ferdinand played his best season since the pair anchored United's 2008 Champions League triumph.
The pair are set to depart together this summer with Patrice Evra almost certainly sharing their leaving party with them, leaving United with one-quarter of a formerly first-choice defence, and with Moyes as hardly a huge admirer of Rafael, either.
Ferdinand had already been banished to the peripheries even as United required defensive stability. Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are now ahead of him in Moyes' reckoning. That Ferdinand's response has not befit an elder statesman or senior professional offers something of Moyes' reasoning.
"Managerial merry go round looks on the cards again....who next after Laudrup are we thinking??" @rioferdy5 tweeted on Tuesday. Despite his braggadocio image, Ferdinand is not short of intelligence, and must have known that his twittering would be angled toward a manager he has next to no relationship with. Ferdinand will be joining his own merry-go-round this summer, with a Stateside move leading his options.
"The options we've got now all round the park, if we can keep everyone fit, are as good as I've had in my time here," said Sir Alex Ferguson just a year ago. Moyes might beg to differ. Even those in the Moyes-denial camp would acknowledge that he was bequeathed a squad both over the hill and short on quality.
Those who want Moyes to be given time and resources would acknowledge that he does not possess his predecessor's capabilities to make do and mend, bludgeon and blend. Age, loss of form and an inability to adjust to a new setup among previous leading lights has left Moyes' new team spineless. A group that had most domestic opponents beaten in the pre-match tunnel is vulnerable, with a manager who seems publicly unwilling to accept its shortcoming while spending his days off seeking fresh blood on scouting missions.
At his peak, Vidic was the best partner for all four of his colleagues, complementing Ferdinand's grace with aggression, and talking his younger teammates through matches. Moyes could do with such an organiser in a team where lack of leadership is perhaps the greatest fault. The Scot has been unfortunate to work with a captain who had lost the edge that made him so effective.
Mark Payne is ESPN's Manchester United blogger and the author of 'Fergie's Last Stand'. He tweets here.