Typically, I’m a reluctant expositor of transfer rumours. Mostly because I don’t like getting over-exited about things which history would suggest, are unlikely to ever happen, and secondly given the endless profusion of footballers linked to Chelsea every year, compared to the few that actually do join the club, blogging about just the latest rumoured name always seemed rather pointless to me. However, not only do the recent rumours regarding the re-signing of Nemanja Matic seem legitimate/likely to materialise in the short term (see his interview with A Bola here), but I think his alleged impending return offers the chance to look out and evaluate some deeper, overall squad issues.
The Back Story:
I suppose it’s a matter of personal taste as to whether you view this transfer as an act of shameless flippancy when forced to confront past errors of judgement, or, as a demonstration of a commendable lack of pride and commitment to recruiting the very best, even if it means paying £20m for a player you gave away in an exchange deal only three years ago. It is of course the case that had the player not left Chelsea when he did; he would never have had the opportunities to play that have seen him reach the standard he exemplifies now. However, given it was widely known how highly Matic was rated back in 2011, especially now in hindsight, his sale (without even a buy-back clause) was a plainly horrible decision by the club. Perhaps the ‘last minute’ nature of the ‘deadline day’ deal to procure David Luiz from Benfica forced the club into making uncomfortable decisions – but that’s still no excuse.
With so many talented young players on the books right now, it’s important we learn from the example of Matic and make sure we won’t end up in this embarrassing position again. Though at the same time, it’s also a shame that the back-story to this transfer will be the dominant narrative and not the fact that we have signed an outstanding defensive midfielder, for what would otherwise be a pretty modest fee (If the £20m rumours are correct). Considering that’s the same amount the Lisbon side managed to sell Javi Garcia to Manchester City for 18 months ago, under normal circumstances you could even say we’ve found a bargain!
Do We Need the Player?
Obviously we do. Whilst a huge number of fans would rather we signed a striker – despite there being none for sale of any notable quality and given we have a potentially world-class 20 year old front man on loan – it seems clear to me that the centre of midfield is the area of the pitch most desperately in need of strengthening, for moving beyond this season and also for right now. With Ramires getting run into the ground, Mikel an unpopular selection choice, Lampard injured and out of form, Van Ginkel out for the season and Essien likely to be leaving, those on forums whining and asking ‘What – another midfielder?’ I suspect really don’t know what they’re talking about.
What Sort of Player is he?
You may have seen comparisons of Matic to Yaya Toure on social media pages, with many attempting to draw parallels between the two. I find this confusing. The only real similarity I can see is a shared ability to use their stature/physique to impose themselves on a game; stylistically however, the two aren’t comparable at all and I suspect the wishful thinking of some Chelsea fans is the only real reason for the existence of this comparison.
Though while any supporters misled by this analogy might be disappointed when Matic doesn’t go bombing forward from deep positions and smashing in the free kicks, they’ll hopefully be cheered up to find our new Serbian recruit is a much much better defender than the City player. British TV pundit Dietmar Hamman was publically criticised recently for accusing Toure of being a defensive ‘liability’ at times but I think we was completely justified in saying so. The Ivorian can be very sloppy with his defensive responsibilities. Whilst this is a criticism I’ve never heard made of Matic, who in his three years away has all but mastered the ‘volante’ position/ become an expert midfield destroyer. Clever with his positioning, a solid tackler and solid in the air, he reifies the qualities our midfield has been missing since the prime years of Michael Essien and Ballack. He should also fit comfortably straight into the high pressing system Chelsea are using at the moment – I remember his strength and powers of retention in the Europa League final last season, were the main reason why Chelsea couldn’t get the ball out of their half for almost the entire opening 30 minutes, with even David Luiz getting bullied off the ball one or two times. In short, the Serb is exactly the sort of player we need and should’ve signed in the summer – bet late than never though, of course.
How good is he?
As far as I can see from the two Benfica and Serbia matches I watched last year that Matic is exactly the type of player we need, my opinion of exactly how good he is isn’t informed enough to bother reading. However, the fact he was named Player of the Year in Portugal last season (the kind of distinction very rarely given to a player of his position) as well the laudatory opinions I found on Twitter from FC Porto fans (you’d imagine the naturally harshest critic of a Benfica player), all the signs seem to bode well.
Obviously it could well be the case that opinions published on social media from professed fans and enthusiasts of Portuguese football could be as oblivious as mine. But the so easily findable surfeit of praises for all aspects of Matic’s game: his ball control, technique, vision, distribution, interceptions and passing etc paint a picture to me of a defensive midfielder whose completeness and competence in the role puts him up next to very best in Europe, i.e. the javi Martinez’, Sergio Busquets’ and Daniele De Rossis. Let’s hope the picture is an accurate one.