Nemanja Vidic: Jones, Smalling's Man United progress slowed by injuries to me, Rio
Nemanja Vidic has claimed that the development of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling at Manchester United was badly affected by the failure of himself and Rio Ferdinand to guide them through their early years at Old Trafford.
Smalling, 28, and Jones, 26, were signed by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2010 and 2011 respectively as the long-term replacements for Vidic and Ferdinand.
Ferguson recruited the pair as youngsters with the aim of both learning the ropes by training and playing alongside Vidic and Ferdinand.
But Ferdinand's persistent back problems and a cruciate ligament injury sustained by Vidic in December 2011 left the inexperienced Smalling and Jones having to learn their role without the help of their two senior teammates.
Smalling and Jones continue to struggle for consistency at United under Jose Mourinho and Vidic, the last United captain to lift the Premier League trophy in 2013, believes that the two central defenders were not helped by having to play so many games as young players without his and Ferdinand's expertise and guidance alongside them.
"It didn't help them [Smalling and Jones] because they didn't have a more experienced player to pick their brain when they played," Vidic said. "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."
Vidic, speaking at St George's Park during a media coaching session linked to the UEFA Pro Licence course, claims that confidence can drain from a young player when uncertainty creeps into his game.
"If you lose that belief and think: 'Should I be here, or here, or be here, then it's difficult to play," he 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?"
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_