It was a transfer window "where were you?" moment. Football fans huddled round glowing screens in pubs and living rooms as Chelsea completed the Premier League record signing of Fernando Torres on transfer deadline day, January 2011.
But while Sky Sports' Jim White and Adam Burton were verging on delirium, shouting into the camera with the ferocity of a North Korean newsreader, another significant deal was being sanctioned at Stamford Bridge. We just didn’t realize it at the time.
The deal that took David Luiz to Stamford Bridge from Benfica also sent Nemanja Matic in the opposite direction as a makeweight. Now three years later, the Serbian is back at Chelsea after completing a transfer from the Portuguese side last week, as per the Daily Mail.
Many will point out that effectively Chelsea have paid £21 million for sending Matic to a finishing school for three years. Even for the King’s Road that’s an expensive school.
However, Chelsea deserve some credit. Naturally there are those who guffaw at their financial recklessness but a great deal of pride has been swallowed to re-sign Matic, and in a way that should be applauded.
Some clubs are too stubborn to ever sanction a big-money move for a former player, especially one they shuffled out the back door on the cheap. To sign a player once deemed not good enough would be admitting a mistake, and in football you can never admit a mistake.
But you should be able to. Rather than a symptom of weakness it can be quite the opposite. Clubs should keep an open mind when targeting former players in the transfer market.
Sure, for a short while it gives opposition fans some ammunition. There may be a few "what a waste of money" chants, but if a player is truly worth returning for, the decision will be quickly vindicated.
For instance, ask Barcelona fans whether a sense of indignation over the re-signing of Cesc Fabregas still persists? Or over the £5 million transfer of Gerard Pique for that matter?
Or how about Borussia Dortmund fans? Ask them whether they feel embarrassed that their club admitted a mistake and re-signed Marco Reus for a club record €17.1 million fee (Goal). You’ll likely find the Westfalenstadion faithful have virtually forgotten Reus even played for Borussia Monchengladbach.
Another Premier League club has reportedly been considering taking a big gulp of pride, with Manchester United linked with former midfielder Paul Pogba, now excelling at Juventus—as per the Mirror, amongst others.
If United stand a genuine chance of re-signing Pogba they should do it without a second thought. The 20 year old is precisely what United are desperate for and would fill the gaping midfield void in David Moyes’ team.
Moyes had no control over the circumstances that saw the French midfielder leave Old Trafford in 2011—details via Sky Sports. He should care little over what the hypothetical signing of Pogba would say about his predecessor’s transfer policy.
Should United have covered their eyes and accepted Pogba’s contractual demands when they had the chance? Probably. In hindsight was he worth the reported £30,000 a week his agent Mino Raiola insisted on? Almost certainly, but the only thing United should concern themselves with now is whether Pogba would improve the current team or not. And clearly he would.
Something United should factor into any decision on Pogba is the seemingly high success rate of players returning to their former clubs. Perhaps rejection strengthens the mindset of a professional footballer, but the signings of Fabregas, Pique, Reus, Jermain Defoe, Graeme Le Saux, Martin Keown, Peter Beardsley and many more show that those who return for a second crack invariably succeed.
Pogba and Matic have seen their careers progress much faster than would have been the case had they stayed put. Both players have benefitted from regular first-team football and have showcased their mental toughness after making big moves at such a young age.
The reasonable £21 million fee paid by Chelsea for Matic suggests some kind of buy-back agreement was in place between the two clubs. Market value should have put the Serbian’s price closer to the £30 million mark, but some will still point out Chelsea could have saved themselves £21 million by keeping hold of Matic in the first place.
But what’s the alternative? Matic was the best option for Chelsea and is tailor made for Mourinho’s counter-attacking approach. As a dynamic and combative presence that is comfortable on the ball and carries a goal threat, Matic looks a particularly shrewd acquisition.
Of course, there are still lessons for Chelsea to learn. Mourinho will also presumably rue the decision to ship out Daniel Sturridge, especially considering Chelsea’s striker deficiency. Too often the door is slammed shut on young players coming through the club’s system before they are even afforded a chance in the first team.
But just because you made one mistake doesn’t mean you should make another.