For us, it was a gradual thing. Me and Vida were getting partnered up here and there in training and I think a really big part of our partnership is that we became good buddies off the pitch as well. We might get a coffee or a meal, especially in the early days after he’d moved over. I helped him settle in by taking him out a couple of times, but more importantly, we just spent time together around the training ground after training. We’d go and have a sauna together, we’d talk in the gym, we’d sit in the recovery pool just chatting. He’d be picking my brains, I’d be picking his brains and what comes out of conversations like that is how I see defending, how he sees defending, and then through training I started seeing what he was good at.
It comes down to intelligence, with partnerships. You need to have some level of intelligence to appreciate your partner’s best movements, his go-to movements, what he prefers. Being able to smell, see and feel what’s good for your partner is going to make things easier for you. If I can make people around me feel better, feel more comfortable, then we’re all going to perform better. I talked enough to ensure that they felt better, which made them perform better, which gave us a better chance of winning and gave me a better chance of performing better as well.
In training, we would do really good drills for defenders and really good drills for attackers, and we would be learning. In those sessions, me and Vida weren’t necessarily together, but when I’m out on the side waiting, I’m watching. Let’s say, for instance, there are two centre-backs in the goal area and they’re doing crossing drills for three, four or five strikers coming in. I might be having a breather and Vida’s partnering someone else, but I’m watching Vida, looking at what positions he takes up, looking at where he looks best, where I can go off of him if I’m in there with him. I’m sure that was the case vice-versa too. That’s why I always say to kids: when you’re outside the exercise waiting to come in, that’s when sometimes you need to be doing your most work. Looking, watching, learning. For us, that game intelligence and understanding of each other came from the training pitch.
People always ask:
“Did you work hard at the partnership?”
I don’t ever remember anybody once sitting me and Vida down and saying:
“Right, you two are going to be a partnership, but you’re going to have work on X, Y and Z.” It wasn’t like that. Again, I think the intelligence of the players is an important factor, to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your partner, but there was also a desire between us to form a partnership.
We wanted to become something.