Triumphant return

Chelsea swallowed their pride and splashed out GBP21million for Nemanja Matic, who had significantly improved during his time in mainland Europe and was rumoured to be a target for several other clubs. It was a gamble and Chelsea could have looked foolish if Matic flopped again, but the 26-year-old has proved to be worth every single penny spent, with his dynamism in midfield. By Simon Dent.

Jose Mourinho is not the only one enjoying success in his second spell at Chelsea. But while the likes of the Blues boss and Didier Drogba were already legends at the club when they returned, the same cannot be said of Nemanja Matic.

The midfielder has been widely hailed as one of the key ingredients to Chelsea recapturing the Premier League title this season after cementing his place in the team.

It has been quite a journey for Matic to get to this point, having started his career with FK Kolubara in Serbia, before moving to Slovakia-based MFK Kosice, still only a teenager.

Chelsea came calling in 2009, but arguably it was too soon in his career and Matic was unable to anchor down a permanent position in the team, only coming off the bench three times when the results were beyond doubt.

Chelsea won those three matches with a combined aggregate score of 17-0, suggesting manager Carlo Ancelotti had little faith in Matic to perform in crunch situations.

He was sent out on loan to Vitesse Arnhem before Chelsea agreed to sell him to Portuguese giants Benfica, as a makeweight in the deal which saw David Luiz head the opposite way.

It seemed his Stamford Bridge career was well and truly over and Matic made the most of his new opportunity, enjoying Champions League experience and becoming increasingly important to his new team after the departure of Javi Garcia to Manchester City.

Matic helped Benfica reach the Europa League final in 2013, where, coincidentally, they were beaten by Chelsea.

Benfica also agonisingly missed out on the Portuguese title after finishing a point behind champions Porto, but Matic was named the Primeira Liga Player of the Year in 2013, and got his hands on a major trophy a year later as Benfica won the title.

With Ancelotti now with Real Madrid, it was Mourinho who opted to take Matic back to Chelsea. The club swallowed their pride and splashed out GBP21million for a player, who had significantly improved during his time in mainland Europe and was rumoured to be a target for several other clubs.

It was a gamble and Chelsea could have looked foolish if Matic flopped again, but the 26-year-old has proved to be worth every single penny spent, with his dynamism in midfield. Alongside fellow recruit Cesc Fabregas, Matic has become one of the key cogs in the Chelsea wheel that has seen them storm their way to the Premier League title.

The only blemish during an impressive season was being banned for the Capital One Cup final against London rivals Tottenham after he reacted to a poor tackle from Ashley Barnes in a game against Burnley, after which Matic admitted he was relieved he could still walk.

“He is the best player,” said Mourinho. “At this moment he is a giant, not for his size but for the way he plays. The man is a giant.”

With some well-deserved silverware under his belt, Matic has already justified Chelsea’s U-turn and his best years should still be ahead of him.

Matic is married to Aleksandra Pavic and the couple have a son.

FACTFILE Name: Nemanja Matic Position: Midfielder Club: Chelsea D.O.B: 1/8/1988 Serbia Caps: 19 Serbia goals: 1

Moment to remember: Winning the Premier League in his first season back with Chelsea.

Moment to forget: Missing the Capital One Cup final after being sent off for reacting to a tackle from Burnley's Ashley Barnes.

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