Juan Mata’s move from Chelsea to Manchester United became official on Sunday, as both clubs agreed on a deal worth over $60 million for the midfield playmaker (a club record for the Premier League champions).
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho confirmed Friday that the Spanish international will be having a medical at Manchester United ahead of his move to the club (the deal was completed after the transfer of Eygptian winger Mohamed Salah from FC Basel to Chelsea was completed).
Though eyebrows may have been raised and hearts may have been broken that Chelsea was willing to lose one of its best players (Mata was voted the club’s Player of the Year twice since joining them in 2011) to another Premier League club rather than one in another European league, I see the deal as a win for all involved – Chelsea, United and Mata himself.
With the 2014 World Cup fast approaching, the 25-year old Mata was desparately in need of regular playing time in order to make the Spanish national side – and it was clear that it was no longer going to happen at Chelsea. For reasons known only to Mourinho himself, Juan Mata has been plummeting down the midfield depth chart at Stamford Bridge behind Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian.
Mourinho’s system calls for midfielders willing to track back on defense, and press high up the pitch. Willian (who signed at the beginning of the season) has been doing exactly that – hence his increase in playing time – and Oscar has been a pleasant surprise with his willingness to help out defensively. That leaves two defensive liabilities in Hazard and Mata – one too many for “The Special One”.
Mourinho decided to go with Hazard and frankly the 23-year old Belgian has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season. Making Mata even more expendable is the fact that Chelsea has been in contention all season long without him, just two points back of first place Arsenal, so Chelsea fans should not shed too many tears. Chelsea are very capable of winning the league this season without Juan Mata.
Speaking of winning the league, don’t think there wasn’t some gamesmanship involved by the timing of the move.
Mourinho is no dummy! He knows Chelsea no longer has to play United this season, so there’s no chance of the Mata deal coming back to bite his club. However, Manchester United still have games remaining versus the other contenders (Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton) so perhaps Mata could help out Chelsea while wearing a red jersey – a fact not lost of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Meanwhile, United needed a player of Mata’s ability in the worse way. The Premier League champions needed to do something about their midfield and asking a teenager (18-year old Adnan Januzaj) to carry it so early in his career is way too much. Juan Mata might just be what the doctor ordered for David Moyes’ club. There are few players better at creating scoring chances than the Spaniard (David Silva and Mesut Ozil are the only two players that are comparable).
His presence in the lineup should also help forwards Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie when they both return from injury – in particularly Rooney, who has been forced to play deep and create goal-scoring chances rather than taking them. Mata’s addition might not be enough to help United defend their title this season, but it may be enough to help them finish in the top four (United is only six points back of fourth-place Liverpool) and Champions League qualification next season. Missing out on Champions League football would be catastrophic blow for the Red Devils.
So in the end, everyone benefits from the deal. Manchester United will be getting a world-class player it desperately needs; Chelsea will be getting a large sum of money for a player who’s not in their plans and can use it to strengthen other areas (a striker immediately comes to mind); and Mata will be getting the regular first-team action he desperately needs to solidify his spot on the Spanish national side for the World Cup this summer.
Call it a win-win-win!