When Manchester United won the Champions League final in 2008, they had arguably the best defence in European football. Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were the three constants in a side that would go on to reach two more finals as well as win multiple Premier League titles.
With the departure of long time left-back Patrice Evra to Juventus having been confirmed, it is time to look to the future, but also a time for reflection. Just how good were the men who made up United's defence?
Firstly, Rio Ferdinand, signed back in 2002 from Leeds United in an astonishing £30 million move, which at the time presented a huge financial risk. But as he settled in at United, his performances continued to improve with an increasing level of maturity.
Perhaps what he needed was the perfect foil, and this arrived in January of 2006 in the form of Serbian monster Nemanja Vidic.
Joining from Red Star Belgrade in a deal supposedly worth around £7.5 million, most fans were rather unaware as to the abilities of this young Serbian destroyer. But he quickly became a fan favourite, leading by example through his assertiveness in the tackle and in the air, where he would rarely be beaten to the ball.
Finally, Patrice Evra, signed from AS Monaco at the same time as Vidic, helping to complete this defensive puzzle. Costing around £3.5 million, Evra has proved to be a bargain, not only becoming one of the best left-backs in world football, but also one of the most staunchly passionate players to ever put on the United shirt.
Evra understood what it meant to be a Manchester United player and this is arguably the trait that will be most sorely missed. Although he became more liable to make a mistake towards the end, there is no understating the effort and impact he, along with Ferdinand and Vidic, had on the Red Devils.
Though trophies are usually the best barometer, perhaps their ability and cohesiveness was best summed up by the defensive record that they helped to set in 2009, when United didn't concede in 1,334 minutes, a truly astonishing feat.
In more recent times United have only been able to dream of such defensive sturdiness, and it is in that vein that they now look to the future, and say farewell to these defensive stalwarts.
New signing Luke Shaw, along with Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones, represent the backbone of a new look United defence, and the club can only hope that they have half the defensive solidity of their predecessors.
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