Former Manchester United player Phil Neville believes that whoever was responsible for allowing midfielder Nemanja Matic to leave Chelsea for their Premier League rivals in the summer “needs sacking”.
Matic made a £40m move north during the transfer window and has settled in quickly at United to bring a much more balanced approach to their midfield when sat alongside Paul Pogba, who is able to venture forward much more as his Serbian teammate protects the back four.
The arrival of Matic at Stamford Bridge in 2014 – for the second time in his career – saw Chelsea immediately win the Premier League title in 2014/15, and they did so again last season with Matic a key figure in Chelsea’s brilliant revival after a shaky start to 2016/17.
However, the green light was given for Matic to follow Jose Mourinho to United – something that Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has hinted was not down to him – and his replacement, Tiemoue Bakayoko, has not looked as convincing as Matic did at protecting the team defensively.
Bakayoko has even gone as far as admitting that he is not a replacement for the Serbia international because they play in different ways, and Neville spoke after Chelsea’s heavy 3-0 defeat by Roma in the Champions League on Wednesday of the club’s obvious void where Matic once stood – adding that whoever is responsible for allowing a Premier League rival to sign Matic should pay with their job.
“What’s gone wrong for Chelsea? One word. Matic,” Neville said on BBC Five Live. “It’s as simple as that. The minute they sold Nemanja Matic was a mistake.
“When you had Matic sat in front of you, alongside [N’Golo] Kante, there was protection. Whoever made that decision needs sacking. That is one of the poorest decisions I have ever seen in the Premier League.
“If you ask any of those Chelsea players who they would want back, they would say Matic. Chelsea replaced him with someone who is going to do the same job – Bakayoko is not that player, he is not a holding midfield player.
“They didn’t replace him. I wouldn’t have let him out of the building, I would have chained him to the training ground walls.”
Rather than allow the manager run rule over player transfers, Chelsea deploys a group of individuals who are responsible for new arrivals and departures, which includes technical director Michael Emenalo and director Marina Granovskaia as well as the manager Conte.
Reports have surfaced this season that all is not well behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge this season – something that Conte vehemently denied last week – and the fact that the club missed out on a number of Conte’s transfer targets in the summer has only fanned those flames along with a string of defeats for the first team.
Nemanja meanwhile will return to Stamford Bridge this weekend when United take on Chelsea in a game that Conte has already admitted could end his hopes of retaining the Premier League title.