All over social media avenues, Manchester United fans are giddy at the sight of Juan Mata’s arrival to Old Trafford but the transfer contextualizes the position of both clubs. £37million, a club record, for a player that has been deemed surplus to requirements, sold to a rival that is no longer considered to have the capability of stopping the well oiled machine that is Mourinho’s Chelsea. Yet, that is only a half truth. Yes, Mata has been a peripheral figure in the club’s exciting and promising start to the season but that doesn’t mean he is not the same player that ended up as Chelsea’s player of the year the past two seasons. Yes, United are a side that for all intents and purposes look a side devoid of the quality required to challenge for the title any time soon. Yet, when the two are combined it looks like the widely accused ‘classless’ Chelsea, have offered United a helping hand to reinvigorate their season and what was a bleak future last week, is now filled with hope.
I won’t hold my breath for any fans to be sending ‘Thank you’ cards to Roman Abramovich though.
Having been asked to highlight Mata’s greatest strengths and what that could mean for United, the best place to start is to simply say, he’s a difference maker. Apart from the ever-so witty pun, there is a reason why Mata is dubbed ‘The Special Juan’ because it is the truth.
The two seasons prior to this, Chelsea probably had their worst performances in the league under Abramovich. The beacon of hope in those two seasons? Juan Mata. Trying to transition from the original side of Mourinho’s team almost a decade ago, to a more youthful, free-flowing style has been difficult. The changes have come in waves, the process has been slow and the results would have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for the Spaniard. He’s a player that can, if given the opportunity, carry a side over the finish line and for United that is what is needed in the remainder of the season. The finish line, of course being a top four position in the league to secure their Champions League position for the next season. First and foremost that makes Mata a player capable of handling pressure, with the added bonus of a winning mentality.
Mata is an attacking utility man, whilst that is often used to perhaps describe a ‘Jack of all trades, master of **** all’ type, a Dirk Kuyt if you will. In this case, it is a player capable of influencing the game from anywhere in the final third. After all, he started his career as a striker in the Real Madrid academy but his move to Valencia resulted in a freedom over the pitch. When he arrived at Stamford Bridge both Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo used him predominantly as a winger, Mata only found a permanent home in the centre of Chelsea’s attacking exploits when Benitez came into town. The positional versatility means that United can work around their existing strengths and have Mata address any problem area in a given game.
Technically, Mata is sublime, very few players around the world possess the sort of ability that he has. His left foot is indeed in keeping with the proverbial wand. Whether he’s supplying the final ball or finishing a move himself, Mata deals in goals. 20 goals and 35 assists last season are an indicator to the sort of impact he can have when a team is willing to build around his genius and it is that level of production in both departments that really makes him the threat that he is and separate him from many other players in his role.
For United, the arrival of Mata is a match made in heaven, both parties can use the transfer as a catalyst for a successful second half of the season. Perhaps, more importantly it does mean that they don’t have to go around trying to convince the rest of the world and themselves that Kagawa is the world beater they thought he was. Do any still think he’s a better signing than Eden Hazard?
It is a shame that Mata decided to leave Chelsea for Manchester, to many it may seem like an easy way out of a testing time but I’m not here to judge him on that, after all we don’t know whether Mourinho expressed to him he wouldn’t play a prominent role at the club. It was a great two and a half seasons spent watching the little maestro and I thank him for his part in winning the Champions League and Europa League.