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21st Jun 2019

Fernando Torres has retired: Nemanja Vidic can finally rest

Wayne Farry

Nothing was ever the same

The day was 14 March 2009 when Liverpool’s sultry Spaniard ripped the heart and soul from Manchester United’s Serbian terminator.

Liverpool needed a win at Old Trafford to keep pace with Sir Alex Ferguson’s team in the title race. They got it, and in doing so they also broke Nemanja Vidic.

At the time – painfully a decade ago now – Vidic was in the discussion for best central defender on the planet. No one got past him, no one really came near him, as much out of fear as the realisation that he would just absolutely batter you and perhaps even himself in the pursuit of a clean sheet.

Alongside the equally talented but infinitely more elegant Rio Ferdinand, Vidic was the enforcer. Barring a few teething problems shortly after his 2006 transfer to Old Trafford from Spartak Moscow, his play for United had been near perfect.

There was a beauty in his brutality, like watching a lion rip the head off a gazelle – he was the sword to Ferdinand’s pen. Both were mighty.

Prior to that sunny March day, no one had bested Vidic in the Premier League. He had an aura, part of the foundation of one of the strongest Manchester United teams to ever take to a football field. But in one fell swoop it all fell down. Vidic, in the space of a few seconds, was starring in his own nightmare.

And it was all because of Fernando Torres.

There is a basic rule in football – ‘do not let the ball bounce’. Vidic was the king of not letting it bounce. He would kick the ball into the sun before letting it hit the ground. But not today. Today he hesitated, and it would change him forever.

It was a long punt up into Manchester United’s half – Vidic’s bread and butter – and nothing was on. The defender was facing the ball and Ferdinand was jogging in tow, negating the distant threat of Torres.

But then he let it bounce. Maybe he was spooked. Maybe it was Torres coming back from the future – Bran/Hodor like – to scramble the Serb’s brain at just the right moment.

Even at this point he could have cleared it or passed it back to Edwin Van Der Sar, but in hindsight we were already gone beyond the point of no return.

Torres had located himself into Vidic’s cerebral cortex and was pulling all of the strings.

Crucially, Torres was also running really fast. He could smell blood. Vidic was flustered – more flustered than he had ever been in a United shirt. Roles reversed, Vidic was now the gazelle, legs shaking and heartbeat rising.

Realising the danger he now faced, Vidic made one last attempt to salvage the situation and, like in all of the best nature documentaries, it was now when Torres went for the kill.

Just as Vidic raised a quivering leg to clear it, Torres rose beautifully, getting a toe on the ball and finally gaining possession.

Torres was now through. This was bad enough for Vidic, but worse was to come.

The worse which came was the fall. A fall so bad that even a toddler learning to walk would have felt the shame. Vidic face-planted in his haste to chase Torres and, in doing so, left him free to do his bidding and score the equalising goal on the way to Liverpool winning 4-1.

In the end, the result didn’t matter. Manchester United lost the match but won the league, despite their humiliation at Old Trafford. But for Vidic, things were never the same again. He remained a spectacular defender, but from that moment onwards Torres was a constant in his head.

Fernando Torres accomplished a lot in his career, but nothing like this. Anyone can win a trophy, but it takes something special to break a man. On this day that he called time on his 18-year career, no one will be happier than Nemanja Vidic.