Nemanja Matic is a holding midfielder of the highest order at Manchester United, but few will realise that’s partly courtesy of former Argentina stars Pablo Aimar and Javier Saviola.
The Serbia international, who joined the Red Devils in a £40 million move from Chelsea over the summer, admits that he never intended to fill his current role.
Instead, the 29-year-old had hoped to be a creative influence from a playmaking post.
He was, however, to see his position altered after facing fierce competition for places at Benfica and has never looked back after forging a reputation as one of the finest enforcers in the business.
“When I started to play football, my dream was to play as an attacking midfielder and to score goals,” Matic told Inside United.
“When I grew up slowly [motions to being tall with his hand], I started to move back and, when I came to Benfica, the coach Jorge Jesus told me I won’t have the chance to play attacking midfield.
“We had many players better than me in that position, such as Pablo Aimar and Javier Saviola. So it was difficult for me and he said, if I want to play, then the No.6 position in defensive midfield was for me and I can become one of the best in the world.
“I started to work hard and to listen to him and, step by step, I improved. As you can see today, I am at Manchester United and I am happy that I changed my position.”
Pressed on whether his size, along with his ability, had led to the switch, Matic added: “Yes, I think so. With my height, it is difficult to play forward in that role but I don’t know.
“Maybe the coach said that my height was a problem when maybe it was my quality! Aimar and Saviola were very small but extremely good technically and had very good quality.”
Matic spent three years in Portugal with Benfica sandwiched between two stints at Chelsea, with the Serb now a key figure at United having moved to Old Trafford and having made 23 appearances in all competitions.