Nemanja Vidic is a point away from hoisting his first trophy as Manchester United captain – and he thanks the Reds’ critics for creating the platform for the achievement.
The 30-year-old Serb has also warned rivals of the champions-elect that Sir Alex Ferguson’s much-maligned new generation of players will get even better next season.
In Fergie’s era as Old Trafford boss, only Gary Neville in November 2005 walked into a skipper’s job facing a more daunting task.
In the aftermath of Roy Keane’s controversial exit, Neville took possession of the armband in a time of transition and turmoil.
Last August, Vidic was officially named as the new captain with Fergie citing his appearance record as the reason for the appointment above Rio Ferdinand.
Vidic’s new assignment was made public days after Ferguson had learnt privately of Wayne Rooney’s stunning news that he didn’t want to sign a new Old Trafford contract.
When that became public knowledge, United were also dodging incoming flak from fans and critics alike as they stumbled along in the autumn.
Supporters and observers were also questioning that the modest £25m summer outlay to acquire Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling and Bebe was not enough to regain the Premier League title from Chelsea and have an impact in Europe.
Fergie and the Glazers were held responsible to varying degrees for not doing what was perceived as essential refurbishment on the squad.
Rooney’s contract saga also had the squad quality at its root. There was an atmosphere of simmering discontent.
But Vidic took the blows on the chin and his leadership helped the Reds absorb the punishment.
The £8m buy from Spartak Moscow in 2006 cites the tough appraisals as the fuel that fired the bid for a record-breaking 19th title and a place at Wembley in the Champions League final against Barcelona.
“Complements are not always good for you. Criticism can help a team,” Vidic told M.E.N. Sport.
“Back in early season there were people who were always trying to compare this team to other United teams. They were saying that we didn’t have the individuals like we used to and we were not as good.
“But you look at the names in this team and you think ‘how could they say that?’ I couldn’t agree with all that was going on then.
“We have never been focused on what people have been saying about us but you can still get benefits from it. It can be a positive.
“Sometimes criticism can help a side. It can drag you forward. You have to work harder to prove to your critics that anything they are saying is not true. That it is different to their opinions.
“It pushes you to work harder. If you are getting complements then that can have the opposite effect. It can relax you. You start believing what people are saying about you and you are not on top of your game. We have become better as a result of all the words that were said about us. We always had enormous belief and we’ve worked hard together defensively and in attack. It is all done as a team.
“If we win the title we will have proved to everyone that we are a very good team. We are nearly there now to prove them wrong.”
One more point from the Blackburn and Blackpool games and United will be confirmed as the 2011 champions. Vidic also believes there is so much more to come from the squad he leads.
“This team has space to grow. I think that next season we will be even better,” he said.
“You see we have so many young players. Fabio, Chicharito, Nani, Valencia, Rafael, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Anderson. We have a great big potential in this squad.
“This year they have proved themselves. It is a great squad and we can capitalise on what we have achieved.
“Some teams you feel you can grow up and improve. You sense there is the hunger and room to make progress. This team has it. We have good competition and crucial young players coming through. It is a great place to be.
“Players have the platform and back-up to be successful at this club. The environment of Old Trafford and all the people who work in it are geared for success.
“They have a winning mentality throughout the place. They are pushing and driving for success all the time.
“In terms of the playing side, the backroom staff want you to improve. As players, the coaching staff are always encouraging you to do better. They work with individuals to bring out the best in them and help them improve. It is all about getting every ounce out of everyone.
“This is a fantastic place to be to improve your game and be the best. It is especially so for young players. They have the chance to be at the best club and they have the support from the staff to ensure you get the best out of yourself.
“You are encouraged to work. The people who work with the players are always pushing you to move forward and progress. It is the mentality that sees United through so much. This team like all the others before them have a great hunger.”
Now Vidic stands on the threshold of having his picture adorning the walls of Carrington and Old Trafford as a league title winning skipper.
“It is great to be the captain of such a big club like United. To lift the trophy would be even bigger,” he said. “At United, it is all about success and if you don’t win the trophies it is not that exciting to be captain.
“Every trophy is so special. The first title I won in 2007 was the first time United had won the league in three or four years and that was very exciting. It was a first for me and the club got the league back. It was a great time. But this is a big achievement this year.
“I never dreamed of being captain at the club when I arrived. I never expected it. My target on arrival was just to play week in and week out.
“My mentality was to win the trophies as well but I never targeted the idea of me being first up to receive it. To be close to doing that is just amazing.”