Nemanja Matic interview: My family were in tears when we left Lisbon

Although it was hard for his wife, Serb is happy they’re back in Chelsea where this time he feels ready, he tells Glenn Moore

It is the story, for many, of the modern world. Nemanja Matic is 25. Already he has worked in five countries, having left his Serbian homeland as a teenager.

He speaks four languages and has proved an adaptable, hard-working employee. Apart from the fact his career as a footballer means he is famous, and rich, his could be the story of many an itinerant immigrant, getting on his bike, in Norman Tebbit’s infamous phrase, to further his prospects.

But it has come at a price. When he told his family he was rejoining Chelsea last August there were tears, not because they feared he would again be unable to break into the team, but because they were very happy in Portugal, where they lived outside Lisbon near the upmarket beach resort of Cascais.

“When I was alone, [moving] was nothing special because I would just change apartment,” he said. “Now I have a family, a wife and a three-year-old son, it is very difficult. They are used to living in one place. Then I come and say ‘we are moving’. To be honest, they cried when we left Portugal.”

There is a wry grin when he is asked if his family are enjoying the English weather. London’s shopping, it seems, provides solace for his wife, as she adapts to new surroundings. His son, however, remains confused by the proliferation of red buses. Matic explains: “Benfica’s team bus is red. When he sees a red bus he thinks I’m on it.”

Few industries have embraced immigration as enthusiastically as football, perhaps only the hospitality and agricultural trades. Footballers are, of course, far more lavishly remunerated than fruit-pickers and waitresses, but while wealth makes life easier, it does not insulate people from unhappiness.

Matic, however, seems not to have a care in the world as we chat at AFC Wimbledon’s Kingsmeadow ground, where he is promoting the launch of the PUMA evoPOWER 1 football boot. And why should he? Since he returned to Chelsea in January they have eased seven points clear in the Premier League, in which they play Aston Villa today, and look set for the last eight of the Champions League. Matic has swiftly emerged as a key figure. Making his second debut he bested Yaya Touré as Chelsea won at Manchester City and has barely put a foot wrong since.

Matic’s performances have vindicated Chelsea’s decision to pay £21m for a player they had sold for £5m just three years earlier. This volte face was permissible because the manager who bought him, Jose Mourinho, was not the one who sold him (Carlo Ancelotti), and the player was the same as the one they sold in name only.

Matic was an attacking midfielder, just past his 21st birthday, when he joined Chelsea the first time, from Slovakian club Kosice, for £1.5m in August 2009.

“I was very young,” he recalls. “In my position that time were big players, Ballack, Lampard and Essien. I came here injured – I was four months out – so it was difficult for me. The Premier League is not easy for young players because it is very hard, very tough. Most of the players are very tall. In Portugal I used to play against small players and I won every ball. Here it is more difficult.

“From a Slovakian team to come to the Premier League is not easy. For me it was like a dream, but I was young and it was a good experience.”

However, in 18 months he played only three matches before being loaned to Vitesse Arnhem. “When you leave a big club and go on loan to a small club in Holland it is not easy. But I am a footballer and I have to be professional about my job. I think, ‘OK, if I cannot play at Chelsea, I have to find some club where I can play’. For a young player, the most important thing is to play.”

After five months in Arnhem it was time to pack his bags again. “My agent told me Benfica wanted me to go there [as part of Chelsea’s purchase of David Luiz]. I say, ‘OK, Benfica is a big club, for me it is good if I play there’.”

He adds: “I think I did not make a mistake.” Indeed, it was in Portugal that his career was transformed, by coach Jorge Jesus. The Portuguese may not be popular with Tim Sherwood after Thursday’s touchline spat at White Hart Lane, but he has a fan in Matic, having seen something in the tall Serb that various Chelsea managers had not.

“When I went to Benfica I played like a No 10 in the team. The coach told me, ‘You are going to play like a defensive midfielder’. I said, ‘Me?’ He said, ‘Yes, I think you can play better in that position’.

“I never played that position before. In the start I didn’t play so well, but he believed in me, he believed in my quality, and kept saying, ‘Just do what I ask and slowly you will play better and better’. I did.

“I worked every day tactically with him to improve. I think I’ve improved a lot, and also physically I train very hard every day. After training, I stay every day to work alone in the gym.”

He was also given videos to study, primarily of his predecessor as Benfica’s defensive midfielder: Javi Garcia – who had left for Manchester City.

And then Chelsea called, again. Did he have doubts? Not at all. “I spoke with my agent one minute and that is it. I decide it is good for me to come back. You ask me about money? I didn’t know what my contract was going to be. I just said, ‘OK, I go there’. We made a deal and I am happy. For me, I want to improve, to play good football in a good league; the money is not the most important thing.

“I decided to come back because I feel now is the right moment to play Premier League, now I feel I am prepared. Chelsea is a big club and I want to use this chance to play for a big club in a big league and work with a coach like Mourinho. He was one of the reasons I came back because probably he is the best coach in the world and it’s good to work with him. I think I can improve a lot.”

Which is good news for Chelsea fans, but a frightening prospect for his opponents.

Nemanja Matic wears the PUMA evoPOWER 1, available from #StartBelieving at

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments