Nemanja Matic returns tonight to the club that resurrected his career after he was first deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea, insisting he will dish out no favours to a club he “loves”.
The Blues paid Benfica €25 million and threw in Matic for good measure.
This summer Manchester United were so keen to have him that they paid a whopping £40 million for his services. The fee represented good business for a 29-year-old but it was a surprise Chelsea let go a player, especially to a rival, who had bestrode their midfield during their Premier League title triumph.
And ready to face another of his old teams in tonight’s Champions League clash in Portugal Matic is ready to show his former fans just how far he has come.
“It’s a special club, a club that I love,” said Matic. “At Benfica, I learnt a lot about football and about the pressure of playing for a big club, because they are one of the best clubs in Europe,” he said.
“I will support them for the rest of my life and they will have a special place in my heart but, in the Champions League, I hope we can take points from them.”
The Serbian has hit the ground running in United’s new beefed up midfield under Jose Mourinho, another former Benfica man — United boss was assistant coach at the club back in 2000.
Matic’s now blossoming career was very much at the crossroads when he arrived at the Portuguese giants six years ago. Indeed, Benfica were not even sure what his best position was when he arrived.
“When I first came to Benfica, the manager, Jorge Jesus, told me on my first day I would be playing as a No.6 or as a defensive midfielder,” Matic told MUFC.com. “At the beginning, it was strange for me because I didn’t know I could play that position but, slowly, I trained with the team and the manager explained to me how to do it. And after a lot of hard work, now, I’m at Manchester United, so I must have done the job well.”
Matic enjoyed a trophy-laden spell in Portugal. He won the club’s Player of the Year crown, a league title and three domestic cups in three years. So unsurprisingly he looks back with real fondness on his time with the Portuguese giants.
United are big favorites for the Champions League clash at the Estadio de Luz. The hosts have only won two of their past seven games and have lost their opening two Champions League ties, 2-1 home defeat to CSKA Moscow, before a 5-0 route away at Basel.
“I was surprised because Benfica is a team who’s used to winning games,” Matic said. “But they are a big club and they have good players, I think everyone there is hard to play against. There are six or seven players still there that played with me, and they have a few younger guys who want to show their quality, but I cannot mention any standouts because, as a team, they are really good.”
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