As has become customary in the modern game, Manchester United made a big deal of announcing Nemanja Matic’s shirt number moments after announcing his signing in the first place. Although the club megastore staff probably aren’t too worried about crowds gathering ahead of opening tomorrow morning. Matic’s signing isn’t exactly designed to shift shirts.
That isn’t to say the Serbian won’t prove to be a strong addition to the United squad. They needed someone to anchor the centre of midfield, someone to act as a barrier in front of the back four while providing the likes of Ander Herrera and more importantly Paul Pogba a platform to operate higher up the pitch.
But Matic’s arrival at Old Trafford is emblematic of Jose Mourinho’s short-termism as a manager. The Portuguese isn’t interested in the long term, only in the here and now, and the £35 million signing of the 29-year-old midfielder illustrates this better than any move he has made up until now as Man Utd manager.
“Nemanja is a Manchester United player and a Jose Mourinho player,” the man himself said after completing a deal for the Serbian. :He represents everything we want in a footballer; loyalty, consistency, ambition, team player. I would like to thank him for his desire to join us because without that, it would be impossible to have him here. I am sure our players and supporters will love him.”
Indeed, while Matic’s form has dipped rather dramatically over the past two years, he was considered one of the best in his position not so long ago. Mourinho got the best from him at Chelsea and the hope at Old Trafford is that under the Portuguese coach the midfielder will once again find his groove.
Yet there’s something about Matic pitching up at United that should unsettle the club’s fans. This has never been the Red Devils’ way. Look at the signing of Michael Carrick all that time ago. £16 million was, at the time, a significant outlay for a fairly unremarkable midfield pass-master, but they have so far got 11 years of service from him. Even last summer’s record signing of Paul Pogba was made on the basis of his potential.
Man Utd are renowned (or at least they were) for their capacity in taking potential and turning it into fully fledged talent. Matic doesn’t fit that bill, though. The Serbian only has a few years left at the top of the sport before the unavoidable effects of immortality start to take hold, as happens to footballers in their 30s. Is that really worth the £35 million, plus add-ons, Man Utd have paid for him? The deal would appear to be better for Chelsea than it is the Old Trafford club.
Mourinho would argue that before he can address the long term he must rebalance the short term. After all, Man Utd have finished in the top four once in the four years since Ferguson retired. They have yet to even come close to mounting a title challenge. Only when they do that will the future become clear. Only successful teams are afforded the privilege of planning for years to come.
The issue for Matic is that he must deliver straight away. There can be no bedding in period of the kind granted to someone like Pogba. His transfer has been constructed on the basis of achieving immediate results and so that’s what Mourinho will demand from the Serbian. There is a burden on his shoulders that, even for a Man Utd player, will weigh heavy.
There is logic to Matic’s signing, but that logic has an expiration date. It’s a movie that demonstrates the control Mourinho currently has over Man Utd. While David Moyes and Van Gaal both made do with the players delivered to them by Ed Woodward, Mourinho is now dictating all. For his reputation as well as the player’s, there’s a lot riding on this deal.