Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho says he was astonished when Nemanja Matic became available in the summer.
Matic, 29, has been an ever present for United in the Premier League this season, playing every minute of the action so far and he has been one of Mourinho’s star performers.
Eyebrows were raised when Chelsea allowed the Serbia midfielder jump ship for £40million in the summer, none more so than from the United manager, who signed Matic from Benfica in January 2014 while in charge at Stamford Bridge.
“I was surprised when [Matic’s] agent called me to say ‘do you want him?’ ” Mourinho told Sky Sports News.
“I was surprised, but he’s an agent I know well. Normally he’s very direct and objective, he doesn’t waste time, he doesn’t try to get people to be interested in his players to improve their situation at their club.
“Normally he’s very straightforward, so when he told me ‘you can have him if you want’, of course I want.”
Matic will return to the Bridge this week as United face his former club looking to keep touch with leaders Manchester City.
“I think it’s something normal,” added Mourinho. “I promise you I go to Stamford Bridge the way I go to the Emirates, the way I go to any big match. It’s a big match because of the opponents, not because it’s a team where I was the manager.
“Maybe the first time I went back to Stamford Bridge in 2009 with Inter, then in 2016 last season after the second spell with Chelsea, ok.
“But then it becomes something normal. I think it’s a big game because it’s a big game not because I’ve been at Chelsea or Matic or Mata. It’s just because Chelsea are champions and Manchester United are Manchester United.
“Chelsea are the champions and one of the top teams in the country and I consider them and they consider themselves too, a big contender for the title.
“I think six (teams are in the race) because Everton, in spite of their huge investment, didn’t manage to follow the group.
“I think in the table now you can already feel the four or five are there. If Liverpool are a couple of points behind I’m pretty sure in a couple of weeks they’ll be close to us too.”