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January transfers can be a risk, but they can pay off for Manchester United


Real deal: Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic won numerous medals with Manchester United, despite struggling at the start of their Old Trafford careers

Real deal: Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic won numerous medals with Manchester United, despite struggling at the start of their Old Trafford careers

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Real deal: Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic won numerous medals with Manchester United, despite struggling at the start of their Old Trafford careers

Signing new players in the January transfer window was never Manchester United's style when I was there. The hard work was done in the summer, bringing in the best individuals to improve the team and integrating them in the culture of the club before the season began.

Every so often, Sir Alex Ferguson would make an exception to that rule and while it would be fair to say that it did not always work in his favour, his record was pretty good.

When I think back to the signing of two young lads in January 2006, I am reminded of the fact that you cannot always judge a footballer on the first impression he makes.

To say the dressing room at United was concerned about the suitability of Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic when they arrived would be an understatement. Yet they turned into two of the greatest players at the club in the last 10 years; arguably two of the greatest players the club have ever had.

They both captained United at different times. They were also prime examples of footballers coming from overseas into the Premier League who needed time to adapt.

I believe that Patrice has described his first experience of Premier League football as "like being in a washing machine". At half-time on that day at the Etihad Stadium - his debut was a Manchester derby - you could say that, in a manner of speaking, Sir Alex Ferguson turned off the spin cycle.

Patrice didn't come back out for the second half, and it was not hard to see why.

We lost the game and although I didn't play, my abiding memory is of City targeting Patrice. I don't blame them, we would have done the same. They struck long diagonals balls out to our left and every time Trevor Sinclair would attack the ball, smash Patrice out of the way and City would be in behind us. We were 2-0 down at half-time, lost 3-1 and Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off. A bad afternoon all round.

When Patrice first arrived, we used to wonder whether the manager had signed a jockey, rather than a footballer. There was hardly anything of him.

Gradually, however, his personality emerged. This was one tough player, who was determined that he was not going to be brushed aside and become one of the forgotten men at United.

Patrice became one of the best full-backs United have had. By the time Gabriel Heinze had recovered from his cruciate injury, Evra was the first choice. The next season he won the first of his five Premier League titles and the rest is history.

It might surprise you to hear that Nemanja, who arrived from Spartak Moscow, was not the powerful centre-back thathe became over his years with the club.

There was nothing of him when he arrived. He was skinny and relatively easy to push off the ball. Like Patrice, he took a battering in his first few weeks at the club - in training as well as matches.

His league debut was a 4-3 defeat to Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, with Rio Ferdinand playing in midfield and later sent off. It was one of those crazy Premier League games with goals flying in, defensive mistakes and tough tackles.

Nemanja must have realised quite early on that he was not strong enough to play in the centre of defence at that time, so he did something about it.

For the next year, every time I walked past the gym, I would see Nemanja in there lifting weights. He turned himself into a big, strong centre-half who was capable of knocking strikers out of the way.

He always had a great ability to head the ball, but allied with his strength he became unbeatable in the air.

Throughout his United career, we would play away at difficult grounds and it would be Nemanja heading crosses and set pieces when the team were under pressure.

In training, he was different. He always fancied himself as a No 10, and he was a very skilful individual.

It was a shame that his injuries got the better of him at the end of his time at Old Trafford, but what a career it was for him and Patrice.

They were great personalities, too and the manager bought for them for the combined price of around £17.5m. Not bad for a couple of future United captains.

Walking into the dressing room at a club like United takes some nerve, whatever your record has been in the past.

If you can handle being in there, you can handle pretty much anything that football in England throws at you. We all have to go through it.

Signing a player for the long-term in January, as United did with Juan Mata last year, is not easy - but it can be done.

Source: Independent

Belfast Telegraph