Neil Humphreys: Why Matic could be Mourinho's best signing for United
Man United can win title with Mourinho's 'best signing'
Jose Mourinho signed three players to rebuild the spine at Chelsea and won the English Premier League.
He has now signed three players to rebuild the spine at Manchester United and has turned them into title contenders.
In both instances, the key player was the same player.
Nemanja Matic was the first of the trio to arrive at Stamford Bridge and the last to sign on the dotted line at Old Trafford, but his integral importance to both clubs cannot be overstated.
The Serb is not just the final piece in United's puzzle. He's their best signing.
He's made an art form of morphing into the missing link, minding the gaps between a resilient defence and a muscular attack.
At Chelsea, Matic needed the subsequent signings of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa to really underline his value.
He arrived in January 2014.
The other two joined in the summer. They were champions within a year.
Now the 29-year-old has turned up at the Theatre of Dreams after Victor Lindelof and Romelu Lukaku, as Mourinho puts together another potential platform for domestic supremacy.
If the United manager employed a sketch artist to translate his description of the ideal midfielder onto a sketch pad, the end result would look a lot like Matic: Tall and broad-shouldered, athletic and long-legged with thighs that could crack walnuts.
Watching Matic make his second, full debut at Chelsea in January 2014 was a privilege.
From the pitch-level press box at the Bridge, it was impossible not to admire such an industrious physical specimen.
Against Stoke City, it was beasts against beast that day. The bigger beast won. Matic was the latest monster of Jose Frankenstein's creation.
Despite Mourinho's ability to tweak formations to guarantee certain results, he remains intransigent when it comes to holding midfielders. The position is untouchable, sacrosanct.
Whether it was Costinha (Porto), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Esteban Cambiasso (Inter Milan) or Claude Makelele and Matic in his two Chelsea stints, Mourinho never went to work without one.
And it seems unthinkable, perhaps even unforgivable, that Chelsea manager Antonio Conte or owner Roman Abramovich allowed such a key performer to join a rival.
Matic wasn't surplus to requirements at Chelsea. He was just occasionally surplus, a subtle distinction thanks to the superlative form of N'Golo Kante.
The Frenchman may do the running of two men, but he still needs rest.
Chelsea are challenging for silverware on four fronts this season. Even as a support act to Kante, Matic had a pivotal role to play.
But he was allowed to leave, a myopic decision that immediately creates a problem at Chelsea and solves one at United.
Much of the criticism aimed at Paul Pogba last season was misplaced.
He was being tasked with the jobs of two men, while dragging the ball and chain of that world-record £89.3 million (S$159.3 million) price tag.
Mourinho's inherent reluctance to pick any side without a formidable presence in central midfield forced Pogba into the role.
Michael Carrick has never carried United in a physical sense and Ander Herrera's impish running is better served in the final third, leaving Pogba in no-man's land. He was neither babysitter, nor bulldozer.
To use Mourinho's best Chelsea side as an analogy, Pogba was asked to play both Makelele and Frank Lampard.
Now he can go the full Lampard, or the full Pogba, the imperious, box-to-box gazelle familiar to Juventus fans.
Matic's arrival not only settles his position at Old Trafford, but also the position of Pogba, and perhaps even Herrera, who could slot in alongside Pogba.
That's why Mourinho laboured all summer long to fill his midfield hole. United lost out on Eric Dier's youth, but gained Matic's experience.
At 29, the Serb's best couple of years could be ahead of him and his timing might be just about perfect.
Mourinho has won the title in his second season at every club. It's the Portuguese's sweet spot, coming after a year of squad consolidation but before his toxic siege mentality ends up poisoning the dressing room.
And he's always had a midfielder of Matic's size and stature to lead the charge.
More importantly, United's enforcer may go on to serve as Pogba's liberator.
With the shackles off, the Frenchman has the potential to become the player of the season, which would surely make Matic the signing of the season.