Drill sergeant Jose Mourinho crafts his teams with military precision so it is no wonder he has drafted one of his most trusted corporals to Old Trafford.
Nemanja Matic is the embodiment of all the qualities that Mourinho looks for in a central midfielder: intelligent with the ball, willing to listen to commands, physically robust, and of sound positional awareness.
He likes his midfield strong and stable, if you will. Costinha brought equanimity to the Porto side that won the Champions League and there have been several different iterations across the years, be it Claude Makelele, Thiago Motta or Xabi Alonso.
Mourinho craves control and, as a failed central midfielder himself, champions those who became what he could not. But apart from when he used an aging Michael Carrick, Manchester United’s midfield last year resembled a collection of moving parts rather than a functioning whole.
The boundless Ander Herrera is too much of a livewire to be the anchor, Paul Pogba lacks the discipline and can do far much more besides, while Marouane Fellaini … well, he has his uses, but none of them are in screening the defence and recycling possession.
If Matic can be that man for Mourinho, £40 million (Dh194m) will prove a very small price to pay. He may have turned 29 yesterday but given the paucity of quality defensive midfielders in world football, there is no getting around how crucial experience is to the role.
Chelsea have gone in a different direction with Tiemoue Bakayoko and as talented as he is it will be interesting to see whether a 22-year old – who has been a first-choice for one season in his career – can slip in seamlessly.
The word is that he was bought to sit back while N’Golo Kante plays slightly higher up the pitch, but discipline was not Bakayoko’s strong suit with Monaco last year and he needs some fine-tuning.
In contrast, Mourinho has demonstrably little patience for developing players. They either sink or swim. See his criticism of Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial and even Marcus Rashford on occasion last year – you could almost imagine them cowering by their military-issue bunks while he gave them a proper dressing down.
In Matic, however, Mourinho has a man who already knows the drill.
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