When Manchester United signed Nemanja Matic for £40m in the summer of 2017 there was hardly a river of tears shed by the Chelsea faithful.
Many among the fan-base had long arrived at the conclusion that the Serbian – not exactly known for his mobility anyway – was on the decline while the securement of Danny Drinkwater from Leicester and Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco offered a new and bright direction for the Blues’ midfield.
Perhaps the less said about that the better.
Their point on Matic stood, however, so there was no little consternation in west London when the then 29-year-old got off to a flyer at Old Trafford, patrolling the central area; in the words of one tabloid ‘having a blinder’ on his home debut. Perhaps being reunited with Jose Mourinho was the key in unlocking the past form of a player who was once a Premier League powerhouse? Perhaps Matic was a long way from being finished after all?
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Fast forward 15 months to November 2018 and another disappointing league performance led to talkSPORT offering this damning assessment: “The penny has finally dropped for Manchester United fans: there was a reason why Chelsea gave them Nemanja Matic.”
In between that promising beginning and running – slowly – past that judgement that is akin to being written off the tall, two-time title winner made 63 starts in 76 league games for the Reds. He was a near constant presence as United stumbled and toiled under Mourinho, a flailing state that eventually led to the Portuguese coach’s acrimonious departure last year. Was his diminishing reputation then an unfair extension of being too closely associated with Mourinho’s underwhelming outfit? Or were his lumbering performances a sizeable reason United underwhelmed in the first place?
That remains subjective but what we know for sure is that this season, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the wheel, Matic has been very much a peripheral figure. He has played just 160 minutes of top flight action. He is quite evidently not a Solskjaer man.
And this despite the persistent injury problems of Paul Pogba, and despite too the initial risk in throwing in the relatively inexperienced Scott McTominay in his place. This season United have lurched from mini-crisis to mini-crisis so who better to turn to in order to steady the ship than a player who has been there and done it? Instead Solskjaer has relied on a 22-year-old with just 42 professional outings to his name.
This suggests that Matic’s future in Manchester could well have an end in sight and that reasoning is strengthened by recent reports intimating that a move is imminent. A rumoured switch to Inter appears to be off the table now but that still leaves numerous clubs who would be happy to benefit from his seasoned savvy and calming influence.
“The coach is the man who picks the team and when you are on the bench you are not happy,” the midfielder said last month, further fanning the flames.
Should Matic indeed leave how will he be remembered? It is hoped the colossus who bestrode the Stamford Bridge centre-circle for many a season comes to mind but balancing out that will be this undeniable truth: Chelsea fans were right, in the end.