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Why Chelsea, Man Utd target Matic will take some persuading to quit Benfica

If Nemanja Matic is to return to Chelsea this summer, you can be sure it will be with some playing guarantees.

It's been barely two years since Matic was last at Cobham, but now 24 and firmly established at Benfica, the doubts over the Serb's chances of making it at the elite level are long gone. Matic knows his ability and won't tolerate being undervalued - as his national team boss Sinisa Mihajlovic has discovered this season.

More of that later, today Benfica coach Jorge Jesus is happy to boast he was the one who backed Matic after so many years in the wilderness at Chelsea.

When Manchester City came knocking last summer for Javi Garcia, Jesus told his board to allow the Spaniard to move on as he had Matic waiting in the wings.

"Few people knew him and now it is easy to say that he's a player who has great quality. I was always confident because of the potential he had," said Jesus. "I am delighted Benfica renewed his contract. As more players have contracts extended the greater the assurances that the club keeps its best players."

That contract upgrade came midseason for Matic after a stellar six months under Jesus.

"I have improved a lot. Step by step I have become better at what I do in every game. I think I have improved and this is most important," said Matic, who warns any interested club, whether it be Chelsea, Manchester United or Inter Milan, that he feels a loyalty to Benfica for launching his senior career.

"It is very important for me to know that Benfica trust me. They believe in my football and have rewarded what I have done. I'm very happy here."

That happiness doesn't extend to Serbia coach Mihajlovic, who has found himself in a battle of wills with the young midfielder.

Matic rejected a call-up by Mihajlovic last year after being ignored in the previous five internationals. The midfielder, fed-up with his treatment, turned down selection for a Swiss-base friendly. Mihajlovic insists he won't consider Matic, no matter how well he is playing for Benfica, until he apologises.

"He said he would not play for Serbia and we do not need him. Maybe if his name was Messi, but not Matic," said Mihajlovic. Perhaps the Matic of Chelsea will have rolled over by now, but the Benfica version is having none of it and refuses to cave in.

Dejan Mitrovic, Matic's agent, admits it's a stand off. He said: "He never said he did not want to represent Serbia with Mihajlovic. He said he did not want to be called at that time."

Those in Mihajlovic's corner would view Matic's stand as arrogant. But given the way he was forced to wait patiently for his chance at Chelsea, until the faith shown by Benfica and Jorge Jesus, it's understandable the midfielder is now determined not to be pushed around.

Armed with his bumper pay-rise, Matic is now enjoying the perks of being a pro footballer. His profile in Lisbon is such that fashion designer Fatima Lopes had Matic headline her recent launch at the Portuguese Fashion show. It will take a lot for any interested club to tempt him away from Benfica.

"He's made the most of Javi Garcia's departure," says former Serbia and Benfica star Zoran Filipovic. "He's showing his qualities and proving himself a very important player.

"(But) he shouldn't get ahead of himself. It would be good for him to spend another one or two years at Benfica."

The chance to work with Jose Mourinho, who has recommended Matic's signing, may not be enough for him try again at Chelsea.

As former Blues football director Frank Arnesen recalls: "We had a lot of talent in Chelsea, many of them were given the wonderful opportunity to play, however, Matic never got a real chance, the pressure on him was enormous."

Matic is now making up for lost time and it will take a lot of persuading from Chelsea to convince him to return.

Chris Beattie
About the author

Chris Beattie

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