Auto-Matic to see Nemanja as key cog in Blues machine

Chelsea magazine.
Chelsea magazine.
Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic (left) challenging Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen during their EPL match at Stamford Bridge on Saturday night. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON - It seems strange to think that Serbia, a country with a population of just over seven million, has produced two of the biggest cult heroes in Chelsea's history. There would not, however, be too many raised eyebrows should that figure rise to three.

Petar Borota, with his madcap antics between the sticks in the 1980s, and current defender Branislav Ivanovic are guaranteed to be talked about in revered tones around west London for years to come. And if the early signs are anything to go by, Nemanja Matic could be joining his countrymen in that category.

The midfielder returned to Stamford Bridge in January after a 21/2-year spell in Portugal with Benfica, and has set about producing some dominant displays in the middle of the park.

Having departed in 2011 as a fresh-faced 22-year-old, the returning incarnation of Matic is a beast of a footballer.

"I saw something on the Internet which said this about me," he said. "It's very nice if the people think this about me because it would be a good nickname to have. I have to be like this because I play in a position where you have to be the beast."

He showed as much with his performance against Manchester City and, in particular, Yaya Toure, on his first English Premier League (EPL) start for the Blues on Feb 3.

Twitter was awash with Chelsea fans hailing the display of their new recruit but the praise was not restricted to those of a Blue persuasion.

Queens Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton wrote: "Matic currently out Toure-ing Yaya Toure. Won't see many do that. Bigger, stronger and quicker than him."

He has also impressed his good friend Ivanovic who claims the Matic who returned to Chelsea has a different attitude.

"He is the one who is leading the game," said the defender.

As one of the two midfield pivots in Jose Mourinho's 4-2-3-1 formation, Matic, who is adept at retrieving the ball and dictating play from deep, expects no less from himself.

"I'm a midfielder - if I don't take responsibility, who is going to?" said the 2013 Portuguese Primeira Liga Player of the Year, who grew up idolising Zinedine Zidane. "That's why it was important for me to go away, to grow.

"I feel different than I felt three years ago. I always believed I had the right qualities and style of play for the Premier League.

"I learnt a lot at Benfica... not only how to play that central-midfield position, but I learnt to play with pressure.

"There is a lot of that at the club, just like there is at Chelsea, and it was good for me to go. Now, it is very nice to be back."

There is one thing, however, that makes Matic happier than being on a pitch.

"My son is three-years-old - he is my life away from football. When I am free, I am always with him," said the 25-year-old.

"I don't want to push my son towards football, though - he also likes cars. But if one day he says to me, 'Father, I want to play football' then I will support him."

Should that day arrive, there would be one more footballer in the Matic household.

Matic's father played in the second division in the former Yugoslavia while his 23-year-old brother - Uros - plays for NAC Breda in the Dutch Eredivisie.

"Midfielder, left-footed, tall; if you see him on the pitch, you are going to think it is me," Matic said of his brother.

Uros' career has not yet had as many stops as Matic, whose journey saw him travel from Serbia to Slovakia as an 18-year-old, then on to England via a stop-off in Portugal.

"It was difficult for me in the beginning," he revealed. "I went to Slovakia alone, without my family; I didn't speak the language or know the people or the culture."

It looked as though his dream of appearing in the EPL would be fulfilled by Middlesbrough, when he was invited to train with the north-east club during his time with Slovakian side Kosice.

Despite impressing then manager Gareth Southgate, a transfer failed to materialise.

Was it his destiny to end up at Stamford Bridge?

"This is the footballer's life, these questions," he answered.

"Who knows what would have happened if I signed for Middlesbrough - would I be here today?

"All I know is that I am a Chelsea player now and very happy to be here. I hope the best years of my career are going to be here."

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