Manchester United need to let midfielder Nemanja Matic leave at the end of the season in what would be a move that surely suits both parties moving forward.
Twice a crucial part of Premier League title-winning teams with Chelsea in recent memory, Matic has fallen a long way since joining United in the summer of 2017 and enjoying nothing less than a sensational first few months at Old Trafford.
Chelsea were willing to let Matic go in order to ‘upgrade’ to Monaco starlet Tiemoue Bakayoko. That meant the Serbian was available for a reunion with former boss Jose Mourinho in Manchester; although questions were asked why United didn’t go for Bakayoko themselves.
As it happened, Bakayoko proved to be a major flop at Chelsea and Matic was at least a brief success in the north west. From his shielding role in midfield, he dominated the opening game of the 2017/18 season as his new team cruised to a 4-0 win, breaking up West Ham possession with ease and starting new attacks. United then won 4-0 again just a week later.
Matic faded as the season progressed, but United did eventually secure a second place finish in the final Premier League table and the highest points tally in any season since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. A spectacular late winner from Matic in a 3-2 comeback win over Crystal Palace in early March of that campaign will also live long in the memory.
Arguably no United player suffered more from the collapse of the Mourinho era than he did. His performance level had dropped anyway, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s concerted effort to change the style of play has now left the 31-year-old a spare part that doesn’t fit.
Solskjaer wants young, hungry and energetic players, preferably domestic, as he lays out a new blueprint for an Old Trafford renaissance. Matic, who was poor during pre-season when the new philosophy really took hold for the first time, simply doesn’t tick the boxes.
The boss much prefers Scott McTominay to Matic, while Andreas Pereira is also well liked by the Norwegian - depending on what shape he is using in midfield - and can play a central role.
Matic spent the first three games of this season on the bench, watching McTominay establish himself as a fan favourite. The veteran appeared as a substitute against Southampton, and then only regained a starting place against Leicester because Paul Pogba was injured.
Matic himself has admitted being frustrated because of his new-found fringe role.
“I want to play; I always give my best for the team,” he told Sky Sports after facing Leicester.
It is inconceivable to think that Matic will keep his starting place once Pogba returns to fitness, presumably against West Ham next weekend, and he will likely be no more than a back-up for the remainder of the season. There is definitely no visible long-term future for him.
United are thought to be considering signing a midfielder when the transfer market re-opens in January and are almost certain to make one a priority for summer after missing out this year.
Selling Matic would represent a further cleanse of the deadwood that has characterised the Solskjaer era, although doing it any sooner than summer would leave the squad too thin.
Matic is only under contract until the end of the season, but the club holds an option for a one-year extension. Triggering that at some point in the coming months should not be viewed as a sign that United want to keep him, but will ensure they can at least command a transfer fee.
Matic won’t want to stay if he has no prospects of playing regularly, while United will soon have no need for him. The time will then be right for both to part ways.