Portugal international João Mário was presented by Russians Lokomotiv Moscow on Tuesday after signing a one-year loan deal with the club from Italians Internazionale.
The 26-year-old leaves San Siro three years after a €40m from Sporting, and there will be an option for Lokomotiv to make the deal permanent at the end of the season for an agreed price of €18m.
Mário had long been linked with a move away from Inter following three unsuccessful campaigns under various coaches. When Antonio Conte arrived in Milan this summer it was made clear to the Portuguese he would be made available for transfer, and a switch to Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco was credited as the most viable solution.
However Lokomotiv, home to Euro 2016 hero Éder, won the race and Mário says he is happy with the outcome. “It was easy enough to make this decision,” he said on his unveiling. “I had a conversation with the CEO of Lokomotiv. I shared my dreams with him and realised that I could fulfil them at Lokomotiv. Yes, there was contact with other clubs, but what is much more important is I’m now at Lokomotiv.
“Is it a step back? Playing for Lokomotiv is far more interesting than not playing with Inter. Coming to Lokomotiv is an opportunity to return to the Champions League, where I also played with Sporting. Last season, Lokomotiv took second place in the championship of Russia. Getting first place is an extra motivation for me.”
As well as Éder, Lokomotiv was also home to Manuel Fernandes until this summer, when the veteran midfielder left at the expiration of his contract, and Mário confirmed he spoke with both players. “I asked Fernandes and Éder about Lokomotiv when we played for the Portuguese national team. I consulted with Éder before the transfer. He said that Lokomotiv is a good team with a wonderful atmosphere. Participation in the Champions League is also an important factor.
“This is not the first time I have been in Russia - I came here during the World Cup. Even then I liked Moscow, which became one of the factors in coming here. I plan to stay in Russia for more than one year, so the first year I must understand Russian and then in the second I should be speaking it."
Lokomotiv are one of five teams level on 14 points at the top of the Russian Premier League after seven rounds. As well as a potentially exciting title race at home, the team’s participation in the Champions League group phase will provide plenty of platform for the Portuguese to resurrect his career.
By Sean Gillen