Actions speak louder than words and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been pretty clear with Nemanja Matic this season.
The manager has shown he sees the Serbian only as a squad player, rather than a regular starter.
Over the course of the campaign this role could reduce further, to the point where he probably ends up getting sold next summer.
How did we get here?
United had high hopes for Matic when Jose Mourinho signed him from Chelsea for £40 million.
Despite his indifferent form in his final season for the Blues, Matic’s early performances for United made it seem like money well spent.
Early last season his form dipped badly, and was a contributing factor in Mourinho’s downfall.
When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over Matic was expected to see his role reduced, but he stepped up and was one of the key players in United’s early run of success under the Norwegian.
A three man midfield of Matic, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba were excellent until injuries struck and broke it up.
After his return Matic played poorly and was outperformed by Scott McTominay, and Solskjaer has made it clear he wants to go with the youngster, starting him in all four of United’s games this season.
Matic is not happy
The Serbian is not pleased about his role and has told Solskjaer as much.
The Mirror quote Matic: “I work as hard as I can, we respect the decision, it is mine to show him that he was wrong and to bring me back to where I belong.
“There is no problem. I told him I disagreed with him, but that he had to decide the team.”
Matic’s quotes are fine, he is not used to being on the bench, previously at Benfica, Chelsea or United. It would be a problem if he was not annoyed at missing out.
He made his first appearance of the season at the weekend, coming off the bench against Southampton.
United were pushing to win the game, and Matic was brought on to allow Paul Pogba to get further forward.
This might be his best hope of regular game time this season if Solskjaer decides to utilise Pogba in an attacking role regularly, while McTominay will need resting at some stage.
Matic’s experience in midfield is likely to be useful in the Europa League, especially in the away ties.
Matic’s role in the short term could go the other way, if Fred is given game time, overtaking him in the pecking order.
Longer term, United will want to see what they have in James Garner, whose form for the under-23 side has been terrific. Dylan Levitt is another youngster who could get the call.
This season it seems Matic is simply being used as an extra body, a player capable of helping the squad transition.
Beyond this year, he will most likely be moved on, it sounds like he will be happy to leave if he is not playing much.
Matic’s contract runs until 2020 and United have an option to extend it for another year. It makes sense to do this, even though there will be a kneejerk outcry from some fans, and then cash in next summer.
It’s up to the 31-year-old to try and change Solskjaer’s mind this year, but his age dictates he is not part of United’s long term future. His time is very clearly running out.
Looking at the rest of United’s business this summer, he really should not be shocked about this.
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