Manchester United ponder €45m move for Chelsea’s Mata
Champions target league rival’s two-time player of the season in cash-only transfer
Chelsea’s Juan Mata: “I’ve tried to improve . . . to be more clever, do something before the defender can think of it.”. Photograph: PA
The dream for Manchester United fans is to see Juan Mata in a red shirt gliding out of midfield to unlock defences and invigorate the champions’ dismal campaign. Will it happen? Not if Wayne Rooney is supposed to be going in the opposite direction, but if it is a straight purchase then the dream could become a reality.
A few things are clear: Chelsea are expecting a €45 million bid from United for Mata, the playmaker whom Jose Mourinho does not fancy. What is indisputable is that the Spaniard can finish. Last season there were 20 goals for Chelsea and two more for his country in a campaign in which Chelsea raced to 100 goals in all competitions in 42 games, a record beaten last weekend by Manchester City.
The ability to turn a contest and contribute goals are the prime reasons David Moyes considered Mata last summer and is again deciding whether to try to prise him away from Chelsea before February 1st.
While the answer to the question of whether Mata is what United urgently need may be no, it misses the point of the predicament in which the club finds itself.
Champions League priority
Moyes’s side could be nine points from a Champions League berth if they lose at home to Cardiff City next Tuesday and one or both of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur win their midweek games.
A central midfielder (or two) remains the greatest consideration but the icy shiver felt at the prospect of not duelling with the continental aristocrats next season has caused a realignment of priorities.
The beauty for United is that Mata may help solve the short-term need to qualify for the Champions League and help win the longer game of what might happen if Rooney moves on next season.
Moyes and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward may reason that if Rooney gets what he wanted last summer – an Old Trafford exit – Mata is already in place and bedded in as the forward’s successor as chief creative artist. Before then, where might Moyes field the 25-year-old? Rooney is the first-choice No 10, the position Mata loves. And Moyes also has Adnan Januzaj and Shinji Kagawa who can play there.
So if Mata arrives he may be asked to occupy a wide position that is not his favourite or Moyes could tweak the formation from 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 that would have either Robin van Persie and Rooney as the central man, with Mata to the left or right.
He will hardly care where he is deployed as there must be desperation for a move given the nightmare the Chelsea player has endured since Mourinho returned: to be relegated from twice being player of the season to reserve has hurt.
It has also caused Mata to improve his game. Last autumn he said: “I’ve been doing what I’ve done throughout my whole career. I have always . . . tried to bring the positives from the hardest moments. My duty . . . is try my best in every training session, leave everything of me on the pitch. That’s how I can go to bed at the end of the day and be happy with myself. Throughout the last two seasons, I was trying to make myself a better player. Not just defending-wise, but attacking-wise as well.
“I’ve trained a lot on my right foot, to make it better. I’ve tried to improve
. . . to be more clever, do something before the defender can think of it.”
Mata is eager to consolidate his place in Spain’s squad for the World Cup finals in Brazil. He would also enhance United’s hopes of a Champions League place. Achieve that and he will have proved a shrewd acquisition.