Nemanja Vidic has hailed Wayne Rooney as the best striker in the world, but revealed he longs for the chance to try and stop him. The pair will be unified in a common cause from now until 22 May, when they hope to be helping Manchester United to UEFA Champions League glory in Madrid.
After that, though, national pride will take precedence with both England and Serbia competing at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. And it has not escaped Vidic's notice that his own side could meet Rooney's in the Round of 16.
"Wayne is definitely the best striker in the world," said Vidic. "This year he has been great, especially in the second part of the season. He is one of the major reasons why we have been winning so many games.
It would be fun to play against Wayne. One of us would have to lose and he is a great player who would be hard to keep quiet. But that is the challenge.
"But after sharing the same dressing room, it would be fun to play against Wayne. One of us would have to lose and he is a great player who would be hard to keep quiet. But that is the challenge. You want it. That is why you play football."
Vidic is enough of a patriot to bring up the topic of a FIFA World Cup meeting inside the United dressing room. Rooney's jocular response did not come as a surprise.
"We have a hard group," said the centre-back. "We play against Germany, Ghana and Australia. That is tough. But I just mentioned to him if we got through we have a chance to meet England. I said it would be an interesting game.
He said, 'Serbia? Who plays for them?'. He was joking. He knows we are doing well and he knows we are not an easy team, even though England are a big one. We have a lot of good players right across Europe."
Although Cristiano Ronaldo's meeting with Rooney at Germany 2006 earned the Portugal superstar all kinds of negative publicity for his part in the England forward's dismissal in the quarter-final, few would be surprised if Vidic engaged in a muscular duel with his United team-mate, nor question the Serbian's loyalty to his country.
Not that he would set out to injure his friend. That is far more likely to happen in training. "I don't kick so many players," Vidic said, laughing. "I would kick him more in training."
But Vidic's defensive brilliance makes him the ideal man to assess Rooney's striking abilities. Varied and plentiful appears to be the general view.
He is strong and he has pace. He is playing with confidence, which is important, and now he is scoring a lot of goals with his head.
"He is strong and he has pace," Vidic said of Rooney. "For a defender, players like that are always difficult. He is playing with confidence, which is important, and now he is scoring a lot of goals with his head. In fact, I need to speak with him about that because I have not scored many myself this season."
Vidic will be hoping Rooney is on top form against Fulham tomorrow as United attempt to secure the Premier League's top spot ahead of next weekend's tussle with Liverpool, against whom the defender has been dismissed in his past three meetings.
Michael Carrick is set to return from suspension for Ferguson's men, probably at the expense of Paul Scholes, who has unusually started two games in five days. Gary Neville might also be replaced by Rafael, while the Red Devils are expected to find a place for record signing Dimitar Berbatov, who was unfortunate to be dropped for Wednesday's win over AC Milan but may benefit from a switch to two orthodox forwards against a Fulham side drained themselves by their UEFA Europa League exploits against Juventus on Thursday.d