2010 ushered in a number of new fads, music and remarkably Paul the Octopus who went to spawn a line of merchandise and a new-fangled iPhone app, before sadly expiring in October. It also saw the start of the formalised relationship between Chelsea and Vitesse. Enter stage left Nemanja Matic, Slobodan Rajikovic and a personal favourite of mine Matej Delac blazing a trail from SW1 to what was at that point a relative European footballing outpost. The remainder of this article will focus on how this unlikely band of three fared in the Netherlands and where their careers have taken them.
Nemanja Matic, the Serbian international also holds a Slovak passport from his time there with Kosice, which is where Chelsea plucked him from in 2009, injuries prevented him from really making an impact at his first spell at the club. Interestingly he joined a playmaker, having excelled as a 10. He became one of the first recruits to swap blue for yellow and black and joined Vitesse on loan for the 2010-2011 season. Another change was on the cards and after representing Vitesse in 29 games overall in a solid spell he along with 21 million squids departed in January 2011 heralding the arrival of David Luiz from Benfica. Nemanja (I imagine) packed his bags with steely determination to become the midfield destroyer we all know and love. Under the mercurial Jorge Jesus, he was converted to a holding midfielder. He had an excellent spell in Portugal. His time there included winning the cup, the league and picking up a player of the year award. An outstanding performance in the Europa League final persuaded the Blues to invest in him once more and bought him back to SW4 in January 2014 for another 21 million squids. To where he currently patrols the midfield picking up the pieces that one man wrecking crew Kante provides for him. He has been a dominant figure in the centre of the park, adding two Premier Leagues and a League Cup to his trophy cabinet at home. It remains to be seen if he wants to swap London for Manchester, but in this instance, it appears that Vitesse allowed him to play consecutive games, but the move to Benfica was really the making of him.
Slobodan Rajikovic’s career has been botched from the age of around 16 when Chelsea, suitably impressed with making his first team debut for OFK Beograd at 15 paid two million for his services. Services that they could not employ due to the lack of an EU passport or a work permit. So, began the tale of a strong, technically proficient and fiery centre back who never really had a chance at Chelsea. An immediate loan back to OFK and then onwards to PSV as part of the deal that bought Alex to Chelsea, a meagre 13 appearances did not help his development, so off to Twente for a year’s loan, until he went full idiot and spat at a referee during the 2008 Olympics, incurring a 12-month ban. Off he went to Vitesse with compatriot Matic where he played 24 times and did not create too many waves and was subsequently sold to Hamburg where he played out 4 yellow card ridden seasons, then on to Darmstadt 98 (who??) where he clearly played admirably enough to somehow earn a move to Palermo, where he has to date played three games. Over his career, he has racked up 19 senior caps and it is unlikely that his spell at Vitesse can be pointed to as a pivotal moment in his career. At 28 years of age it seems Palermo could be his last chance at the big time especially with Serie A flourishing.
Matej Delac is 24, let that sink in, he is 24 how can this possibly be? He first entered our consciousness in 2008 starring for his hometown team Inter (not that one), saving a penalty on his debut at the age of 16. Following this a trial at Benfica and a call up to be third choice for the Croatian national team. Surely a glittering career as a top-flight stopper beckoned. At which point Frank Arnesen said ‘hold my beer’ and went out of his way to derail his burgeoning career. Lured to Chelsea only to become the most loaned player in the history of any world in the galaxy (deep breath) Vitesse (back up to Eloy Room and the grand total of zero appearances…. not promising), Dynamo Budejovice, Vitoria de Guimaraes, back to Inter Zapresic, Vojvodina, Sarejevo, Arles-Avignon, back to Sarejevo then on to Mouscron. Where he will end up next, no one knows, some say he now lives in his own time zone and his only worldly possessions are his gloves, boots, his passport and a toothbrush. I hope a club will take a leaf out of my book on Football Manager and buy him, make him sign a 10 year contract and let him work out where the hell in the world he is.