Chelsea midfielder and twice reigning player of the season Juan Mata looks set to complete a £37 million move to arch rivals Manchester United tomorrow, finally ridding Blues manager Jose Mourinho of a player whom he clearly does not rate and giving the Red Devils the attacking play-maker so desperately needed by under fire boss David Moyes.
Should it go through the transfer will see a high profile player, not to mention a large sum of money, change hands between two of the biggest clubs in England. Between them Chelsea and Manchester United have combined to win every league title but one since the 2004/5 season in addition to a Champions League trophy each, a staggering haul especially when taking into account the frequency with which Chelsea have changed managers during that period. However at present it’s United who are struggling to come to terms with a new man in charge, prompting a club record bid for Mata despite the fact that the Spaniard has struggled to crack Mourinho’s starting lineup all season. While on occasion top class talent has moved from one top four club to another, for example Robin Van Persie’s transfer from Arsenal to United and Ashley Cole’s move from Highbury to Stamford Bridge, it is highly unusual to see a player who has been so instrumental to his sides success in recent seasons move to a direct competitor, albeit one who sits far further down the table than is normally the case.
As the player at the centre of this all Juan Mata must be wondering what he did to be so publicly eschewed by Mourinho as soon as ‘The Special One’ arrived at the Bridge for the second time. In his two and a half seasons with Chelsea Mata has twice won the clubs player of the year award, winning the Champions League in year one and the Europa League in year two, before being relegated to the bench for the first half of the present campaign. A lively creative influence, Mata is adept at playing both in the classic ‘number 10’ position behind the main forward or on the left flank, where he can use his wand of a left foot to great effect. Having made his Valencia debut in 2009 he quickly established himself as one of the brightest young talents in Spanish football, not an easy task thanks to the other young stars who have emerged during their era of world footballing dominance. 129 leagues appearances and 33 goals later Mata was off to England and Chelsea, the Blues beating a host of other top European clubs to his signature. During his first season in England Mata scored 12 goals and created a further 20, highlighting his ability to both find the net and spot a pass. His second season was even more prolific; 20 goals and 35 assists. A nomination for the PFA Players Player of the Season award was well deserved and although Mata would lose out to Gareth Bale in that category it was clear for all to see that the Spanish maestro was one of the Premier League’s elite performers.
Mata’s international career is equally as decorated as his domestic portfolio and he currently has both a World Cup and European Championships winners medal to his name. At just 25 years of age he’s already achieved more than most footballers achieve during their career, so what does the future hold in store for the soon to be Manchester United man? One thing it won’t feature for at least the next few months is Champions League football. Having played twice for Chelsea during the group stages of this years competition Mata is cup tied should his move to Manchester go through, and with United also out of the Carling Cup and F.A Cup he’ll see action exclusively in the league for the rest of this campaign. His brief hiatus from European footballs top competition could lengthen, however, if his arrival at Old Trafford doesn’t signal a change in fortunes for David Moyes men, who sit three places and six points out of fourth place with just 16 games remaining. It’s more likely that Mata will be showcasing his talents in the Europa League than the Champions League next season and as United embark on their first true rebuilding phase for more than two decades Mata may have to sit and watch and both England and Europe’s top clubs battle it out for silverware.
With the next few months and potentially seasons unlikely to be hugely successful for Mata, Moyes and Manchester United (#alliteration) on the surface the move doesn’t make much sense for any of the involved parties. Yet if you look beyond the here and now the logic behind the transfer becomes much clearer. It’s been said a thousand times this season and it’s true – Manchester United are a team in transition. The core of the last great team built by Sir Alex Ferguson is over the hill and falling fast. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Patrice Evra and Robin Van Persie are all the wrong side of 30. Wayne Rooney turns 29 in October and with his iffy fitness record you would figure he doesn’t have a great deal of time left at the top of his game. If United are to rise again they’ll need the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Adnan Januzaj and Tom Cleverly to fulfill their potential. Developing players is a long and arduous process but it can be accelerated by surrounding these fledglings with proven quality. Quality such as Juan Mata. Before Ferguson won his first title with United he brought in the mercurial Eric Cantona to Old Trafford and built his team around the Frenchman. Jose Mourinho might think he can get away with selling Mata to Manchester United, a team he believes poses no threat under David Moyes. Yet he’s failed to account for the fact that Juan Mata will be far more valuable to Manchester United, a beacon of hope for the future and a player to build a team around, than he was to Chelsea, the Premier League’s most talented (and expensive) impact sub. It’s believed one of the key reasons Mourinho wasn’t targeted by the Manchester United board was his lack of vision and propensity for short sightedness. That very same dearth of planning could see Juan Mata come back to haunt him in years to come.