Five things on Serbian international midfielder Nemanja Matic after he signed for Manchester United from Premier League champions Chelsea on Monday for a reported fee of £40million ($52.7m, 44.7m euros):
Baptism of fire under Dragan
Matic knew from practically the cradle he would play football and aged just five was thrust into the sport under the critical gaze of his father, Dragan, at the Serbian club Vrelo whose pitch was just a 500 metres walk from his home. He stayed there till he was nine and admitted in 2014 his father was never one to shower compliments around. “He had fun with us. He was never happy with my game, though,” Matic told the Chelsea club website in 2014. “In fact, even now he’s not! Maybe once he said I was okay.”
Matic a keen disciple of Jesus
Matic’s first spell at Chelsea was not a happy one after he arrived injured and was then loaned out before being sold to Benfica for £5million (as part of the deal to bring David Luiz to Chelsea) in 2011. It turned out to be a turning point in his career thanks to Benfica coach Jorge Jesus, who transformed him from a playmaker to a defensive midfielder. “At the start I didn’t play so well, but he (Jesus) believed in me, he believed in my quality, and kept saying, ‘Just do what I ask and slowly you will play better and better’. I did,” he told The Independent in 2014. It paid off too as on the back of his performing so well Jose Mourinho brought him back to Chelsea in 2014 for £21m.
Marked by bombing
Matic had he says a generally happy childhood both at school and playing football with his friends but like many of his compatriots it was still marked by violence with the NATO bombing in 1999 leaving its imprint on his psyche. “It wasn’t easy at that time in Yugoslavia, because of the war, but I was very young –- I don’t remember much,” he told FourFourTwo magazine in 2014. “The worst memory is 1999, when I was 12 or 13, and America sent bombs to our country. This moment was difficult for me because I didn’t understand why it was happening. I asked my father, but he could not explain it to me – this is a moment that will stay with me for all my life.”
Mourinho is the ‘Special One’ for Matic
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho arouses strong opinions and Matic is firmly in the camp of those who worship the complex Portuguese coach and not just for his professional abilities as he told FourFourTwo in 2014. “Everybody knows he’s a great, great manager, but I can say from having worked with him for these few months (after his return from Benfica) that he is also a good man. When it is time for a joke, he will joke, but when we have to do our job he is always very serious -– he makes sure we do the right things.” He certainly did that season as they went on to win the Premier League title before being sent on his way the following campaign after a disastrous start to the defence of their title.
Matic in credit with home village
Matic has not forgotten those he left behind who live in more modest circumstances in his village of Vrelo. From paying off gambling debts to paying for the building of a water fountain Matic is something of a local philanthropist. “The first thing that Nemanja does when he gets here (Vrelo) is to visit the local store where he asks for the list of debts of the local people who only buy basic products, and he pays for everything, for everybody,” store employee Liljana Popovic told the Daily Mirror in 2016.
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