The former Chelsea midfielder is close to signing a £22million deal with, uh... Chelsea, according to The Telegraph. Here's a scouting report written before the move's 'announcement' - just so Chelsea fans know what they're getting (and what they could've gotten back before they sold him...)
Given the financial muscle of the top European clubs, losing one or two players each season has become the way of life for the Benfiquista. In January, all eyes are on midfielder Nicolás Gaitán, linked to Manchester United for the third season running, along with defender Ezequiel Garay and the outstanding player in midfield this year Nemanja Matič, who's attracting huge interest from cross-city rivals Man City.
Signed from Košice in 2009 for around £1.5m, Serb Matič spent an undistinguished first season at Chelsea appearing twice, both as substitute. Loaned out to Dutch side Vitesse for the 2010-11 season, he was transferred to Benfica in January 2011 as part of the swap deal, which saw David Luiz move in the opposite direction. After finishing the season at Vitesse, Matič arrived at Estádio Da Luz in the summer and played a squad role in the 2011-12 season making 20 appearances and scoring one goal in a midfield which once included Gaitán, Javi García, the talented Belgian youngster Axel Witsel and veteran Pablo Aimar (Lionel Messi’s boyhood idol). Although an improvement on previous seasons, Benfica’s only trophy was a League Cup win. There was further disappointment in the summer as the popular García was sold to Manchester City and Witsel chose to chase the petrodollar to Zenit St Petersburg.
Promoted by Jorge Jesus to first team regular, Matič has been the mainstay of the Benfica midfield this season, making 44 appearances in all competitions to date and scoring five goals including a superb left foot volley in the Classico against Porto at Estádio da Luz in January. The next day, he signed a contract extension until 2018 with a buyout clause set at €45million.
Matič has proved exceptionally versatile at Benfica playing the deeper role in the Benfica midfield alongside Enzo Perez. He’s tall and strong (6 ft 4in), shields the ball well and breaks up the play with well-timed tackles. He works hard when the opposition has the ball, but his main strength lies in his ability to launch an attack from deep, to turn quickly with the confidence to run with the ball himself and beat players or pick out a teammate in space, in particular lead striker Óscar Cardozo. He has also proved effectively in unlocking teams, which try to park the bus with delicate lobs and chips into the penalty area. Perhaps his only major weakness is out and out pace but given his other qualities and the pace of teammates such as Ola John, this hasn’t proved to be much of a problem. The only other question is how Matič might perform over a full season in a more competitive and physical league such as the Premiership or the Bundesliga?
Given Matič’s versatility, it is not hard to imagine major teams queuing up for his services, in particular Manchester United who are looking for a replacement for Paul Scholes. It is perhaps Moyes' team who would appreciate Matič most, although José Mourinho will also be aware of what the Serb can offer, although whether Matič would want to go back to Stamford Bridge is debatable having been, perhaps unwittingly, a victim of Chelsea’s revolving door management structure and a willingness to sacrifice long term young player development for short term success.
Meanwhile, at Estádio Da Luz, Jorge Jesus has earned a well-earned reputation for player development (Ramires, Coentrāo, Di Maria, Luiz, Witsel), which has enabled Benfica to improve their financial position after problems under previous administrations. Matič looks to be another significant addition to the list of players that have benefited from Jesus’s magic touch.
It’s difficult to know whether Benfica will be prepared to trade Matič this summer. Although the €45 million buyout clause is somewhat fanciful, there is no doubt that if Benfica were to cash in, they would make a very handsome profit. However Gaitán and Garay seems to have attracted most attraction, at least until recently, and should Jorge Jesus sign a new contract with Benfica, he will be looking to win the Portuguese League next year, given the bitter disappointment of Sunday. It may be in both the interest of Benfica and Matič’s potential suitors for him to stay and gain experience at Benfica before launching a bid for him in 2014. Benfica fans will certainly be hoping that this is the case. Man City's team is already full of midfield talent but with Matic they'll be adding one of the best young players in Europe to their squad. Matic could become one of the league's best players and City will be eager to ensure they don't miss out on the talented Serb.