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10th Mar 2018

Vidic’s honest take on Jones’ and Smalling’s struggles is harsh enough on himself

He holds his hands up

Darragh Murphy

Sir Alex Ferguson felt he had the perfect strategy in place to guarantee reliability at centre-half for many years to come.

As Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand matured into one of the most solid central defensive partnerships in Premier League history, Ferguson signed two young English defenders to learn from the best of the best.

Chris Smalling was brought in from Fulham in 2010 before Phil Jones arrived a year later as a highly touted prospect from Blackburn.

Ferguson wanted his pair of promising centre-halves to learn from both Vidic and Ferdinand but it is there where Vidic feels like he let them down.

Amid persistent back issues for Ferdinand and following Vidic’s 2011 cruciate ligament injury, both Smalling and Jones were essentially forced to learn on the job.

Neither has truly fulfilled their potential in the years since Vidic and Ferdinand left Old Trafford and a mistake remains in both to this day.

And the former Serbia international, who captained the Red Devils for three seasons, feels partly to blame for the ongoing struggles of Smalling and Jones.

“It didn’t help them because they didn’t have a more experienced player to pick their brain when they played,” Vidic told ESPN. “It’s not just about playing together with an experienced player.

“If Phil Jones is 24 and playing alongside someone who is 34, the player who is 34 years old is using his brain more than the 24-year-old.

“To rise, he needs to be encouraged a bit and made to feel comfortable in his shoes.”

Neither Smalling nor Jones would have been accustomed to the kind of media scrutiny that they faced after moving to one of the world’s biggest clubs and once they showed the slightest glimpses of uncertainty, confidence began ebbing away.

Even now, Smalling has a tendency to find himself out of position while Jones can struggle under high balls at times.

Vidic believes that he should have been there to put his arm around the youngsters’ shoulders and reassure them of their ability when Smalling and Jones first began questioning themselves.

“If you lose that belief and think: ‘Should I be here, or here, or be here, then it’s difficult to play,” Vidic said. “So that didn’t help them.

“Even if they do something bad, you say: ‘OK, he’s 24 but where was I to help him?”

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