Matic's farewell: Read the full Q&A
As he prepares for his final days as a Manchester United player, Nemanja Matic tells us he will decide on his next career move in June.
Nemanja leaves United at the end of the season after five years with the club and, in an exclusive interview, we take a look back through some of the standout moments, using photographs for inspiration which you can find in the gallery below...
31 July 2017 was when you were unveiled as a United player. Do you remember your thoughts and feelings when you come to the club?
“My birthday is 1 August, so I thought it was a nice birthday present. This picture is from that day, at Carrington. I will never forget it, of course.”
What did you think when you first came to Carrington and being at a club the size of Manchester United obviously?
“It was fantastic. A few days before that, when I knew I was signing for United, I was very excited. My family also: we knew that United is a big club and I couldn’t wait to see the training ground.”
Your first competitive game for United came against Real Madrid in the Super Cup in 2017…
“Yeah, this was in Skopje, in Macedonia. It was great to have a debut against Real Madrid. I remember this was [my] shot before we scored the goal. Yeah, it was a fantastic day for me, of course. I wasn’t happy that we lost 2-1 but it was a nice day for me. I made my debut close to my country, close to Serbia. There was many of my friends there that day in the stadium.”
Your league debut was a bit better, we won 4-0 against West Ham that day. What was it like to play at Old Trafford in front of our fans for the first time?
“It was fantastic. I remember I had a great reception from our supporters. Yeah, it was great. We had a fantastic game and scored four goals.”
Later that season you scored that brilliant goal against Crystal Palace in the last minute. Would you say that’s the best individual moment from your time at United?
“Yeah, I think so. Individual moment, yes. It was a nice goal but not only that, with that goal we won the game: 3-2, three points in the last minute. We celebrated with our away fans and I will never forget that, for sure.”
Do you think that’s the best goal you’ve scored in your career?
“No! I didn’t score many goals but I have like six or seven amazing goals. It’s one of the best but not the best…”
I think it’s one fans still remember isn’t it, because whenever you get the ball now people still shout ‘shoot’…
“Yeah. Shoot! Every time I get the ball in the other half of the pitch, they say ‘shoot’!”
You’ve spoken previously about going into coaching once your playing days are done. You’ve played under Jose, Ole, Michael Carrick and now Ralf here. What kind of things have you learned from the managers we’ve had?
“Yeah, I always try to learn things from them. They have experience. From every manager I had, I learned a lot. Also with Ole, me and Ole had a moment in this picture. He’s a fantastic person, he was my manager but I can say now that he’s my friend. I learned a lot from him. It was a good experience to be with him and he was a legend at this club. He will be forever. I had a great time with him.”
And what about the other coaching staff who we maybe don’t see as often, like the backroom staff? Have you taken advice or learnings from them?
“Yeah, of course. The people that were working with Ole – Kieran [McKenna], Michael [Carrick]… I don’t want to forget anyone but they were all fantastic people. They did a great job. They tried to do their best. Kieran and Michael, they are young and they will still show their qualities in that coaching job. It was a great experience to train with them. With Michael, I had the opportunity also to play. He’s a fantastic person and yeah, it’s all good memories.”
This image is you celebrating from the 2-0 win over Manchester City in March 2020…
“This was the last game before Covid, yeah?”
Yeah. Obviously fans have cherished memories of that day. Would you say that, in terms of games while you’ve been here, is that one of the best?
“Yeah, I think that we had a fantastic game against a very good team. I will never forget that game because also my son was a mascot. He was at the pitch with us before the game [laughs]! I was lucky that every time my son was a mascot, or he was in the changing room before the game, I never lost the game. I have all wins!”
Can you remember the other games he’s been mascot for?
“No, every time he comes to the changing room before games. Not every time he was a mascot. But I remember also at Chelsea: every time he was at the training ground the day before a game, we won that game. The players used to say, when we didn’t win for two or three games: let’s bring Filip back to the changing room, to bring positive energy!”
So the players won’t want you to leave then!?
“[laughs] So, yeah, that was a fantastic game. The second goal was… I think Scott scored from long range? Yes.”
Matic’s United memoriesGallery
Take a look at the 10 photos we showed Nemanja as he opened up on his career at United.
The noise that day… was that one of the best atmospheres?
“Yeah, the supporters that day were fantastic.”
After that we had the Covid lockdown, was that a really strange time because at first you couldn’t even train?
“We had a fantastic day and then after that day it was a horrible few months.”
How did you get through that as players?
“It was hard. We stayed at home. I was lucky that we had a big garden and I could play with my kids and train there, but I hope we never have to come back to that point.”
This is an image of you from training…
“In Spain, yeah?”
In Spain, yeah. We’ve seen the last few years lots of images of the ‘winning team’ and you always seem to be on that team. Once you’ve left will they miss you at training?
“What a team! Yeah they will miss me. I always try to put the pressure on before we start to play. I always say that I’m the champion, I’m the winner so they have extra motivation against me, to kick me!”
I think in our recent Fans’ Q&A you said your nickname was the Wolf…
“Yes, they call me the Wolf because I like to cheat. When they score a goal, I always say no goal or it’s offside. I will miss them also!”
Which player will you miss sharing a dressing room with most?
“To be honest, everyone. They’re all nice people. I will miss everyone.”
This is you and Cristiano…
“This is against Chelsea?”
Yeah. In terms of playing with Ronaldo this season, what has it been like? He’s such a talent…
“Yeah, he’s a fantastic player. He’s an example to everyone, an example to young guys. It’s very important for them to see how he behaves every day and how he approaches the games and the training sessions. He’s a winner. He’s a great character and a very nice man outside of the pitch. I’m very pleased I had the opportunity to share the dressing room with him.”
You talk about the younger guys learning from him but more senior players like yourself and Juan must have learned a lot from him as well…
“Of course. You learn always during your career, during your life. Every day is an opportunity to learn.”
Obviously Anthony Elanga has broken through this year and there’s been a lot of talk about our young players with Anthony, Hannibal, Garnacho this year. How excited do you think the fans should be about that next generation of players at Old Trafford?
“They are great players. Anthony already played many games this season, so he showed he has quality for this club. In the future he will be important, for sure. Also, I have to say that Hannibal is a fantastic player. Great character. The talent he has, he needs to use that. I really want to see him in the future and how he will grow.”
So you hope to see him get first-team minutes next season then?
“I hope so. I think that every time I see him in training, he surprises me with his quality. He’s still young, but I’m very excited. I really want to see how he’s growing and improving.”
The Old Trafford crowd gave you a standing ovation when you came off for Fred in the 3-0 win over Brentford. Your announcement that you were leaving in April caught a few by surprise, I think. Was it a decision you’ve been weighing up for a while?
“Yeah, I was thinking for a couple of months about that and I made that decision. The last night [at Old Trafford] was fantastic for me. Thanks to our supporters. The applause that I got, in front of 75,000 was great. It was emotional for me. I will use this opportunity to say thank you to them.”
And it must be nice to have the opportunity to say bye, because some players don’t get that?
“Yeah, of course. I think the fans recognise what I’m doing on the pitch. Also, off the pitch I try to be an example. I tried to be a Manchester United player not only on the pitch but also outside the pitch. I know what this badge means to our supporters, so you need to be an example not only on the pitch. I think they recognise that and that’s why, when I came off, I had that applause I had.”
You stopped a few times to shake hands with your team-mates. Will you miss them and the camaraderie of the United dressing room?
“I will miss players but not only players, also the staff around the players: the kit man, the physios, the doctors. Everyone. I don’t want to forget someone. But, to be honest, United has some fantastic people that are working for the club. They are behind the cameras but they are very important for the team. They really like the club and that’s good. I’m really happy that I had the opportunity to work with them and, for sure, they will be my friends forever.”
I imagine it’s like a bit of a family is it, because you probably see them every day at Carrington and for the matches here?
“To be honest, in the last five years, the kit man for example I saw more than my dad and my mum! [laughs] I see him every day and I only see my mum and dad in the summer, so they are part of my family now.”
We noticed you posted that your family were all at the game on Monday night with the Matic shirts on. Are they sad to see you go and will they miss coming here?
“Yes, my son I told him there was a possibility that we would leave but he didn’t know until he saw on Instagram. When he saw that was our future, he started to cry a little bit. All his friends are here, school, yeah my kids are sad but that’s life.”
Have you thought about the next steps in your career yet?
“I haven’t decided yet. Let’s finish the season and in June probably I will decide my future. But nothing is decided yet.”
You’ve been over here for probably a decade now, with the Chelsea spell…
“Eight-and-a-half years, yeah.”
Would you look to move abroad maybe?
“As I said, I didn’t decide. All options are open for me and let’s see. I don’t know.”
Just finally, I think you’ve already touched upon it but have you got a parting message for the United fans, for the past five years and just for the support?
“Yeah, I just want to say thank you for the fantastic support. I know that we had a couple of difficult seasons but I just want them to know that us at the training ground, we’re doing our best and United will come back, for sure. It’s going to take some time but United will be back and just keep supporting the team. Stay together.”