Image from espn.go.com
Nemanja Matić has had a rather unusual four-and-a-half years. The Serbian midfield powerhouse’s career arc has seemingly come full cycle.
But this is not the same player that left Chelsea.
The name he wears on his back may be the same, but the player returning to Stamford Bridge is a much improved version of his former self.
This is Matić 2.0.
Signing for Chelsea – the first time
Matić originally joined Chelsea on Aug. 18, 2009 when the London club signed him for a fee of £1.5 million from MFK Košice in the Slovakian Corgoň Liga.
He made only two single appearances for Chelsea that season, and almost exactly one year later, he joined Eredivise club Vitesse on loan.
Having failed to make an impact (although he was barely given a chance), Chelsea decided that Matić needed to be playing games – and Vitesse gave him the chance to do just that.
Matić enjoyed a successful half-season with the Dutch club, and on Jan. 13, 2011, Chelsea agreed a deal to give £21M plus Matić to Benfica in return for the services of Benfica’s Brazilian centre back David Luiz.
After just a year and a half of signing him, Chelsea had decided that it was in their best interests to move him on permanently.
He finished his season at Vitesse (which was a condition of the sale to Benfica), making 27 appearances and scoring twice in the process.
But rather than putting him in better stead for a return to Chelsea, the loan spell ending up making Matić the odd man out.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Chelsea’s loss ended up being Benfica’s gain. He had a point to prove, and Benfica’s new #21 did just that.
The Serbian impressed in his first season in Portugal’s Liga Sagres, making 28 appearances in all competitions for Benfica, and showing the Portuguese giants just why Chelsea had decided to take a gamble on him two years back.
But while Matić enjoyed success in his debut season for As Águias, it proved only to be a glimpse of what he could be.
His next year was breath-taking. The 2012/13 season was the true arrival of Nemanja Matić.
Power, vision, technique and tenacity – Benfica’s Serbian maestro was the complete midfielder. Game after game, Matić stormed around the pitch, a man possessed.
The deep-lying orchestrator met the explosive box-to-box midfielder, and together created love-child Nemanja Matić.
Matić radiated authority; imposing himself on the opposition and controlling games at will.
Forty-five games, 5 goals (and countless others created for his team) and a season of bossing Liga Sagres midfields single-handedly earned Matić the deserved honour of Primeira Liga Player of the Year.
Matić also scored this goal against rivals FC Porto that earned 2nd place in the 2013 FIFA Puskas Award:
He continued this 2013/14 season with equal effect, making 22 appearances and scoring 2 goals for Benfica before Chelsea came calling, offering him a chance at redemption.
He left Chelsea as an outcast, but he would be leaving Benfica with the world in the palm of his hands.
Back to London
Matić officially rejoined Chelsea on Jan. 15 – the blues paid a fee of £21 million to bring back the man that they sold to Benfica only three years ago.
An odd move by Chelsea on the surface, but when you consider that Barcelona let Cesc Fàbregas move to Arsenal before eventually buying him back, and Dortmund following suit when they brought back former youth product Marco Reus, perhaps it isn’t so illogical.
Perhaps it was even a stroke of genius; by moving Matić on to Benfica on a permanent transfer, Chelsea were eliminating any risk that they had. If Matić flopped, Chelsea had done well to offload a player who wouldn’t have been cut out for Premier League football.
But if Matić prospered, Chelsea could do exactly what they’ve just done – re-sign the midfielder, knowing that money would never be an issue.
Matić made the right move heading to Benfica. The timing was right, and his career is now on a significant upward trajectory.
But heading back to Chelsea can be an equally intelligent move from the Serbian midfielder. He now has the chance to prove that he is not the player he was when Chelsea were so willing to let him go.
Matić has developed substantially since his departure from Chelsea, and he will be confident coming back that he can make a far greater impact than he did last time around.
His return will solidify Chelsea’s midfield and greater increase their chances of winning the title. And, in any case, everyone deserves a second chance.