Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Nemanja Matic - 'Just what United needed' or 'a bad deal'?

Manchester United have made their third summer signing with the arrival of Nemanja Matic, who at the age of 28 will cost the club in the region £60m (including wages) over the course of his three year contract. United have reportedly agreed to pay Chelsea £40m to sign the Serbian international.

Confirmation of the widely anticipated, yet prolonged transfer has been greeted with predictable mirth from fans' of rival clubs. In contrast and in response many United fans have been saying 'Matic is just what United needed'.

So who is right and what will Matic bring to United and will he be worth it?  From purely a financial perspective it looks like a very questionable deal. Matic is 29 on August 1st, and at a cost of £40m, he becomes the oldest and the club's most expensive signing for a player over the age of 27. With little prospect of any sell on fee, given Matic will be 32 when his contract expires, the Glazer family - much despised and often derided owners of United -  must have taken some persuading to lavish so much on the Serb, all of which probably in part explains why the deal took so long to complete.

For their part, Chelsea will be laughing all the way to the bank. The champions would have recouped a fraction of the £40m that they have managed to squeeze out of United if they had sold Matic to a club on the continent. Chelsea have replaced Matic with the addition of Bakayoko, 22, for reportedly less than United have shelled out for a much older player. Given the respective deals, it's easy to see why news of the Matic transfer has been greeted with much mickey taking and accusations that this is an act of desperation by Jose Mourinho.

Jose, for his part, is unlikely to care too much about sniping and transfer fees. Mourinho gave Ed Woodward his list of summer targets and the rest was down to United's executive vice-chairman.

So why exactly has Jose decided to sign Matic, for the third time in the last ten years? We can answer that by firstly stating that apart from the burgeoning and yet bizarrely and arguably inexplicably held back Timothy Fosu-Mensah, United do not have a player who is well suited to playing the central midfield holding role; Carrick is too slow and isn't renowned for his tackling skills, the same can be said for Daley Blind - though it's true that both players are held in high regard by many United fans especially in the case of Carrick.

The perceived logic among United fans is that 'at last in Matic, we now have a player who will free up Paul Pogba'. And yet, it might not turn out to be that simple, deep down sensible United fans should realise that. Will the addition of Matic to United's engine room be akin to the final brushstroke on an artist's masterpiece?

United's midfield, like the defence and the attack should be considered to be a department under development, because that's where we are at present following the questionable legacy of the Ferguson era, added to the mixed signings of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal.

Mourinho is still building with question marks lingering about the position of left-back and who will turn out to be United's strongest centre-back pairing? It will be interesting to see how well United's midfield dovetails with Matic, Pogba plus the array of attacking options at Jose's disposal. According to reports, Jose is trying to sign Perisic from Inter Milan; this United team should still be considered very much work in progress.

Great teams are made up of combinations of players that work well together and complement each other; it takes time to build those relationships and understandings. The ultimate goal, which has frequently been achieved and quite gloriously by Jose throughout his career is to end up with a team in which the whole is considered to be greater than the sum of the individual parts.

When Jose Mourinho took the manager's job at Manchester United it was viewed as his biggest test in what has been a largely glittering managerial career. Mourinho is of course a student of former United coach Louis van Gaal, and like his Dutch mentor, he has built his reputation on tactical planning. Unlike Van Gaal, his predecessor at United, Jose's signings to date have been widely acknowledged as hits.

Jose tries to leave nothing to chance by way of preparation, and in his first season as United manager there have been signs that the team is heading in the right direction; the football was better than it had been under Van Gaal and David Moyes;  if not for drawing too many games at Old Trafford a top four Premier League place should easily and automatically have been secured. Nonetheless, the person responsible for polishing the trophies at Old Trafford was not left underemployed with the addition of 'two and half trophies' in the form of the League Cup aka 'EFL Cup' and Europa League plus the Community Shield. Not a bad effort in Jose's first season, but United fans and everyone connected with the club will be hoping that with Matic, Lukaku and Lindelof on board and with a specialist wide player to follow, it will turn out to be a case of 'he who laughs last, laughs the loudest'. Time will tell.


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