Nemanja Matic still gets a buzz ahead of Champions League nights, a decade after making his debut in the competition, as he admits it is every kid’s dream to play on such a stage.
As another stirring night under the lights at Old Trafford awaits, hopefully with the same outcome as the memorable 2-1 victory over Villarreal last time out in Group F, the Serbian discussed the fact that it is 10 years since Nemanja Matic made his bow in the competition proper, and came up against Sir Alex Ferguson’s United.
In an exclusive interview with United Review, the official matchday programme, the midfielder, who returned to the starting line-up at Leicester City on Saturday, reflected on those matches against his current club and emphasised his affection for Europe’s premier tournament.
“When you are a kid and you play football, you dream about playing in the Champions League,” Nemanja Matic told United Review. “I think that is, for every kid, the same. When you hear that song before the game, it’s something special.
“The Champions League is the competition where you can compare your qualities with the best teams in Europe. You also have to travel abroad, to Italy, Spain and to other countries, and that’s a good thing. You can see the different ways of football – the Spanish League plays a bit different, the Premier League is different, the Italian league is different. In all these games, you get more experience and can improve as a player.”
When asked if he could recall the battles with United, Nemanja Matic replied: “It was 1-1 in Lisbon and 2-2 at Old Trafford. I remember, for us, the second goal was scored by Pablo Aimar and one of the United goals was scored by Darren Fletcher.
“I remember Benfica finished first in the group and it was a great season for us. We had a young team but with good players. I think, that season, we reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League so it was a great achievement.
“Yeah, it was special. I remember playing against United at Old Trafford and it was incredible. We drew 2-2 so it was something special. I remember the atmosphere in the changing room after the game, when we saw the table, it was great.”
Despite the suspicion that Fletcher may have reminded Nemanja about his goal, now he is part of the set-up at Carrington, the 33-year-old was at pains to point out that this was not the case.
“No, I, Nemanja Matic told him!” he laughed. “I remembered. He didn’t say anything. I think it was a rebound from the goalkeeper. I can’t remember too well as it was 10 years ago!”
For the record, our other scorer in the 2-2 draw was Dimitar Berbatov, with Ryan Giggs netting in the away game in Lisbon.