Juan Mata: The difference between Europe and mediocrity

by Conor Clancy

Juan Mata ChelseaWhen the news initially broke that Manchester United were looking into the possibility of securing the services of Juan Mata this January transfer window, I didn’t really think much of it. I mean, surely Chelsea wouldn’t sell him to another English club? Especially not the same club who have refused time and time again to allow Wayne Rooney to move in the opposite direction.

A few days later and the move looks not only possible, but likely. If you pay attention to pretty much any football news channel, or newspaper that is.

It’s no secret that Mata has been struggling for game time this season, he’s clearly not one of Mourinho’s favourite players – that much is true. But, on the other hand, we’re not talking about just any squad player here. The man at the focus of this article is a player who, in two years at Stamford Bridge has won club Player of the Year twice. A player who the fans worship and has even found himself even being compared Gianfranco Zola – the official greatest ever player to play for Chelsea Football Club.

This is a deal that makes sense for two of the three parties involved.

Does it make sense for Manchester United? Of course, they need a world class talent of Mata’s profile to help them push back into the top four. David Moyes needs to shake off the criticism he’s come under from certain areas of the media. The current champions have found themselves becoming somewhat of a laughing stock within the football world. They have been reduced from being a seemingly untouchable force in the Premier League to becoming a completely average top half side. Teams sense a weakness now, Manchester United are fallible. Smaller clubs go to Old Trafford and smell blood, they know they can beat a side that previously would have had them trembling with the very idea of facing.

Does it make sense for Juan Mata? Absolutely. He needs to find himself starting football matches again. He’s simply too good to find himself sat on the bench week in, week out. There is a World Cup only a matter of months away and even when playing Mata finds it near impossible to make it into the starting 11 for Spain. The last thing he needs is to be sitting on the bench while the likes of David Silva, and even Jesus Navas are playing for Manchester City, increasing their chances of selection ahead of the Chelsea man.

Does it make sense for Chelsea? Here’s where the confusion arises for me. No mater what way I look at this I fail to comprehend how on earth this move would be beneficial to José Mourinho and his title ambitions. People have put forward the argument that Manchester United still have to play both of Chelsea’s title rivals. If that is the reason Chelsea are looking to offload him, why not do it on a loan basis?

What happens next season? If United have Mata, maybe Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney are back in the side and firing again. Adnan Januzaj has a better squad around him to allow him to thrive, as well as having more experience. Carrick and Fletcher form a partnership in the middle. Maybe they sign a few defenders. Suddenly United are title contenders again, and Chelsea have given them one of their key players.

Okay so at the moment he’s not a first choice player, but what happens if Willian, Oscar or Hazard get injured? Schürrle comes in. But what if another gets injured? Ramires pushes forward? There is no two ways about it, Chelsea would be a lot weaker should they let Juan Mata leave.

Injuries aside, there is still a purpose for Mata in this Chelsea side. They still find themselves competing on three fronts; the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup. They will be playing two games a week for the remainder of the season and squad rotation is inevitable.

So to just summarise things, the one party this deal does not benefit is the party that controls the whole situation. It is a story that I simply cannot wrap my head around.

The deal is not yet confirmed by any stretch of the imagination, but it is being widely reported that Manchester United have made an official bid and I find it hard to believe that they would do so if they didn’t have a fairly good idea that the move would take place.

4 Responses

  1. Sir Cecil says:

    Apparently, you’re in for a surprise. Yes, Mata has a similar range of touch and pass as a Silva, Cazorla, Oscar, Modric and other quality midfielders. But unfortunately, he hasn’t got the battling qualities of ANY of them, and of course, he’s a whole level below Xavi or Iniesta.
    The reason Mourinho doesn’t want Mata is twofold. First, he has the running power and stamina of a 34 year old, not a 25 year old. But even if he does run back on rare occasions, he does nothing when he gets there. He can’t tackle, but worse than that… he AVOIDS making tackles, as if he’s scared of hurting himself. For Mourinho, all the skill in the world doesn’t make up for gutless play.
    Remember how Mourinho worked hard on Joe Cole and Robben, to make them better team players, and succeeding in doing so? Well, he soon realized that getting Mata to play for more than ten minutes in any 45 minutes was an impossibility. Where Robben and Cole (and now Hazard) were physically capable of responding to Mourinho’s needs, Mata is not. Not nearly. Not at all.
    Sure, on his day Mata can win a game with just ten minutes of his skill in each half. But on too many other days, his disappearance the rest of the time LOSES games against top opposition. That’s why, apart from the plentiful highlight reel stuff, Mata’s contributions to this point last season saw Chelsea languishing as many points behind in the PL as Utd are behind this season. But this time, with Mata barely getting a game, Chelsea is challenging at the top.
    Mata is a lovely player to watch when things are going nice and smoothly and he can focus solely on strutting his stuff without the distraction of other responsibilities. But the best sides need players who make the difference when things aren’t going so well. And that IS the difference between the kind of player Mourinho wants and the luxury player Mata is.
    Mourinho doesn’t EVER do anything without full calculation of every conceivable outcome. That’s obvious to anyone, whether friend or foe. The fact that he’s turfed out Mata should be a considerable warning that something is amiss. As is the total lack of interest in this player by top sides like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, or even Man. City. That’s because they all have better. Just as Chelsea has.

  2. Win Soon says:

    You are not wrong, but there are two sides to the story. If you did remember Mata’s first season at the club, he did play on the wings and did contribute extensively to what was a herculean defence effort against Barcelona and Bayern Munich in Chelsea’s successful cup run. Now he may not be as effective as Oscar in terms of defensive results, but definitely does not lack in terms of effort. In fact, watching him play, many would definitely attest to his work rate and creative output especially in the last two seasons.

    Now, what we have this season though is an abundance of attacking talent that was absent in last season. Willian and Oscar playing in their current roles bring way more energy than Mata ever did. And it is hardly Mata’s fault, especially when you are relied on as the main and main effective creative force for the last 2 seasons (I am pretty sure previous managers gave him less defensive responsibility and told him to focus more on attack). Now this drastic change in play style required of Mata takes more than just a few months to change. I doubt he can even redevelop his game to achieve the same level of defensive strengths like Oscar in such a short time. As we all know, even Joe Cole took some seasons to become an even better player.

    Hence, it is unlikely that Mata is a luxury and talentless player that cannot get into the Chelsea side. Even if there are limited interests from top sides, Mata is a wonderful footballer. This is evident from Manchester United’s willingness to shell out such a high transfer price of 37 million, way higher than the price we got him for. Conor is right in his thoughts on why Mourinho sanctioned a sale and not a loan.

    As a chelsea fan, I am gutted to see Mata go. However, the choice to sell him to Manchester United is regardless, a move that weakens us greatly. We basically sold a player only second to gareth bale last season, who produced or scored more than 50 goals last season to a strong rival. This will surely bite us in the back the next season, even if we reinforce our ranks with someone new.

  3. Joe Curran says:

    I think what people are maybe forgetting with this transfer is FFP. Chelsea almost missed their target this very month and spent about net 50 million in the summer. They’ve re balanced and reinforced their squad with players Mourinho actually wants and made a cool profit at the same time. It might make the sale to United more understandable, especially at board/owner level.

    It also means United now have to get 4th place. I read on the BBC their financial models are based on finishing 3rd and getting to the quarter finals of every tournament – this ain’t gonna happen. Missing out on the Champions league would actually be a serious financial blow for United, and they even miss their FFP target. Even if they get there, their finances will be stretched and this is a problem because lord knows their are other weaknesses in the squad that will need to be addressed. One suspects Chelsea are aware of this and have decided to take the risk.

    The other point I’d like to make is I would love someone at BPF to do an article on the job Gus Poyet is doing at my club Sunderland – he’s doing fantastic things here. I genuinely think he is going to the top of management sooner or later and it could fit quite nicely into BPF’s (quite deserved) originality tag, so why not? :)

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