Three years after being sold by Chelsea as a cheap makeweight in a transfer, Serbia midfielder Nemanja Matic made his return to the Premier League club for a fee of 25 million euros ($34 million) on Wednesday in what could be one of the biggest deals of the January window.
Matic was valued at a reported 3 million pounds (now $4.9 million) when he joined Portuguese club Benfica from Chelsea in January 2011 as part of the deal that saw Brazil defender David Luiz move the other way in the final minutes of deadline day.
The 25-year-old Matic matured as a player in Portugal, gaining Champions League experience and winning the country’s Player of the Year award last season. The performances enticed Chelsea to buy him back for a big premium.
“I am very pleased that Nemanja is returning to Chelsea,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said. “He has grown as a player in Portugal and has become a fantastic all-round midfielder. I am sure he will become a very important member of the squad and help us to achieve our ambitions.”
Chelsea is third in the Premier League, two points behind leader Arsenal, and through to the last 16 of the Champions League.
Benfica revealed the fee in a statement to the Lisbon stock exchange. Chelsea said Matic has signed a 5 1/2-year contract.
A tall, composed, ball-playing midfield anchorman, Matic will provide competition for John Obi Mikel, Ramires, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien as Chelsea looks to win silverware in Mourinho’s first season back at the club after an initial three-year spell from 2004-07.
Matic should see more game time than he did in his first stint in London. After joining from MSK Kosice in Slovakia in 2009, Matic made just three substitute appearances in his first season before being sent on loan to Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem to gain more first-team experience.
At Benfica, he played in both legs against Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinals in 2012 and again against the London club in last season’s Europa League final, which Chelsea won in Amsterdam.
“I am very happy for this opportunity to be back at this club,” Matic said. “I feel very good because of that and just want to say I will give my best to help the team and make the Chelsea fans happy.”
Matic is back playing for Serbia after spending time out of the international scene following a fall-out with former national-team coach Sinisa Mihajlovic in 2012. He will link up with Chelsea defender and Serbia international teammate Branislav Ivanovic at Stamford Bridge.
Matic’s first start for Chelsea could come against Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday.