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Mata can be United’s Special Juan

Juan MataJuan Mata’s transfer from Chelsea to Manchester United has been met with a mixed reaction, somewhat surprisingly. A substantial proportion of United fans are more than a little skeptical about the move, citing the hefty reported transfer fee of £37million and more pressing concerns in other areas of the side. However, David Moyes has been presented with the rare opportunity to purchase a world-class operator in the mid-season window and has rightly taken it.

Many fans feel that the Mata money should be reserved for in reinforcements in other areas. Michael Carrick’s most recent injury merely intensifies David Moyes’ already desperate need to strengthen in the central midfield area, while Patrice Evra’s persistent poor form makes the purchase of a new left-back a matter of urgency. However, both Moyes, in press conferences, and myself, on this website, have previously acknowledged the difficulties of bringing in players of suitable quality in the frenzy of the January transfer market. With Leighton Baines set to sign a new contract at Everton, Luke Shaw moving closer to a big-money summer move to Chelsea and Carlo Ancelotti’s “nobody in, nobody out” declaration thwarting any potential swoop for Fabio Coentrao, United will almost certainly have to wait until the summer to procure a new left back.

CabayeMeanwhile, Yohan Cabaye has emerged as the stand-out candidate to revitalise the Red Devils’ engine room, due to some outstanding recent performances. It cannot be disputed that the Frenchman would address a more glaring weakness in the United side, but he does not possess Mata’s aura. In a similar way to Mesut Özil’s arrival at Arsenal, the former Chelsea playmaker’s arrival will galvanise every single Manchester United fan and player, not to mention beleaguered manager, David Moyes, moving towards the business end of the season. Despite its more economical (but still not cheap) and practical nature, a move for Cabaye would not have the same overall effect on the club. In any case, many sources have reported that the Glazer family are prepared to grant Moyes a transfer kitty in excess of £100million, so there is no reason why both Cabaye and Mata will not both be Red Devils by February 1st. Such a double purchase would be expensive, but so would missing out on next season’s Champions League.

It has also been suggested, most prominently by ex-Red Gary Neville, that Mata does not fit in with the Manchester United philosophy. It is likely that this refers to United’s historical preference for natural wide-players, who provide a constant supply of quality crosses, contrasted with Mata’s strength with regards cutting inside to play more precise through-balls or shooting. However, it is easy to overstate this point. Adnan Janujaz (who himself has been stationed in a central role recently) is United’s first left footed left-winger since Ryan Giggs’ reincarnation as a central midfielder, with Nani, Ji Sung Park and Wayne Rooney among the array of right-footers who have filled the role in recent years.

Beckham and RonaldoDavid Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo were the Red Devils’ two most potent right-sided weapons of the last decade, but stylistically, they could not be much more different. Mata has his own unique style of unlocking defences, based on exceptional movement and vision, which will be a much needed boost to David Moyes, as he endeavours to engineer a return to United’s winning traditions. Furthermore, maverick players, who can inspire a team to victory with their individual brilliance, are also engrained in United history. Eric Cantona, Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes, not to mention Ronaldo and Beckham, are just some examples of superstars capable of turning a match in the Reds’ favour and Mata is not out of place in such esteemed company.

There have also been question marks over where Mata fits into this current United side, which, on the face of it, seems rather bizarre. Adnan Januzaj, who is still just 18, and Wayne Rooney are the only two members of David Moyes’ outfield playing staff to have impressed this season and the former Valencia man can occupy a central attacking role just as comfortably as one on the flanks. Given Rooney’s current absence through injury, Mata will likely make his United bow in his reportedly preferred “Number 10? position, allowing Januzaj to return to the left flank. While the Brussels-born starlet has impressed during his recent spell in a central area, his penalty miss against Sunderland provided a timely reminder of his tender years, and he will doubtless benefit from Mata sharing the creative burden. Upon Rooney’s return, the Liverpudlian will likely play centrally, flanked by Mata and Januzaj, in support of a lone striker. With one of the left-footed wide-men likely to prefer cutting inside, this would represent a stylistic change, but one that should be welcome. David Moyes has shown a surprising loyalty to crossing this season, given the lackluster contributions from wide areas and the lack of an aerial presence in the penalty area. This approach has been largely unsuccessful, and has rightly drawn widespread criticism. Moreover, since the 2009 departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, there has been a feeling that United require more subtlety (some may say pure quality) in their attacking play, and Mata’s arrival would certainly facilitate that, as well as a much-needed alternative to a barrage of unsuccessful crosses.

David Moyes has been desperate to transform the fortunes of his new charges, but has so far failed to do so. The purchase of Mata; somewhat startling given that the sellers are English counterparts Chelsea, gives him an opportunity to do just that. Arsenal’s position at the peak of the Premier League serves to illustrate the magnitude of the effect signing a world-class player can have on the entirety of a football club, having been boosted by the September signing of Mesut Özil. The Gunners began the season with a defeat as humbling as any suffered by United this season; a 3-1 reverse at home to Aston Villa. The result left players looking for inspiration, fans despondent and Arsene Wenger cutting an increasingly frustrated figure on the touchline. The £42.5m capture of the German maestro transformed the mood of the entire club and, similarly, just as important as Mata’s performances on the pitch is likely to be the galvanising effect his arrival will have on everyone linked with Manchester United. The players, too many of whom are currently underperforming, will feel a new enthusiasm for the task at hand. The fans, currently frustrated by their side’s lack of inspiration, will have a new magician to hail, likely in the legendary Number 7 shirt. And, boy, does David Moyes need a boost? Moyes has so far been the man who took United to seventh place, the man whose shambolic summer transfer activity culminated in the disastrous purchase of Marouane Fellaini and the man who oversaw the disintegration of Sir Alex Ferguson’s dynasty. Now he is the man who has broken Manchester United’s transfer record, to make a truly world-class acquisition, from a domestic rival. The signing of Juan Mata, which may well be swiftly followed by others, signals that Moyes’ quest to rebuild Manchester United has begun in earnest.




  1. Sahal

    25 January 2014 at 15:50

    I definitely think 4-2-3-1 (narrow) is the way to go.

    De gea

    Rafael-Smalling-Vidic-Evra(hopefully a decent left-back soon)


    Mata- Rooney- Januzaj


    • red astair

      25 January 2014 at 16:14

      @Sahal: As a line up how about:

      Rafael Smalling Jones Buttner
      Fletcher Fellaini
      Mata Rooney Januzaj

      Using players that will probably still be at Utd next season and replacing as needed during the summer.

    • Sam Preston

      25 January 2014 at 20:55

      @Sahal: I totally agree on the narrow 4-2-3-1, I’m very surprised that many experts don’t seem to see this as a viable option.

      Thanks for the comment anyway; hope you enjoyed the article!

  2. red astair

    25 January 2014 at 16:00

    Whatever way you look at it, Mata will improve the side and hopefully turn out to be the catalyst that changes Utd’s season around. Of course, it doesn’t fix the hole in the centre of midfield, that might have to wait until the summer, but it is a statement of intent, hence the moans and complaints coming from Messrs Wenger and Pelligrini. I would expect him to play on the right, but perhaps next season, if Zaha starts fulfilling his potential, we might see him fill the No 10 role behind Rooney as the out and out striker. Exciting times ahead, hopefully.

    • Sam Preston

      25 January 2014 at 20:57

      @red astair: Thanks for the comment, hopefully you enjoyed the article.

      I also have hopes that Mata can galvanise some sort of revival in the second half of the season. It is most certainly a statement of intent, which lets fans and players alike know that United can attract top-class talent. The emergence of Zaha and hopefully a return to form for Kagawa would suddenly provide Moyes with an abundance of attacking options, something he desperately needs!

  3. Karl

    25 January 2014 at 17:17

    @Sam P
    I really like your article. You tried to incorporate all the dynamics surrounding the Mata acquisition. Very good attempt.

    • Sam Preston

      25 January 2014 at 20:58

      @Karl: Thank you very much for the kind words, Karl. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  4. Karl

    25 January 2014 at 17:30

    I like Mata. My only concern is “is this the end of Kagawa”? I see he is mysteriously absent in the article. What are we hoping Mata will bring that Kagawa currently does not? Are we perhaps setting ourselves up for dissapointment? (I can remember when we signed Carrick and expected a Keane performer – I’m still not over that dissapointment). Will the price tag add to the pressure and expectation?

    I truly hope (and I mean it sincerely) that he becomes our “Special Juan” and not “Another Juan”. I just want to see us playing with style.

    • Sam Preston

      25 January 2014 at 21:01

      @Karl: The very best teams, such as City, Arsenal and Chelsea have an abundance of attacking options, so there is no reason why Kagawa should have to leave, just because Mata has arrived, in my view.

      In terms of what Mata can do that Kagawa can’t, I think he is a more purposeful player, with a greater ability to affect tight games. He may be in a similar ilk to Kagawa but I believe there is a difference in class between the pair, which is why the Mata arrival is so exciting, for me.

      I certainly hope the burden of expectation due to the transfer fee doesn’t hamper his performance, but Mata has performed on all the biggest stages, so I don’t see any reason in particular that he should fail to do so again.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  5. Karl

    25 January 2014 at 17:33

    I’m still bothered by the question…
    If Mata is so special, why is Mourinho letting go of him so freely? Why is he not attempting to patch things up like Moyes and Rooney? I cannot assume that Mourinho is a stupid fool.

    • red astair

      25 January 2014 at 17:45

      @Karl: Maybe it’s a similar situation to Moyes and Kagawa, good player but doesn’t seem to fit the system or maybe it’s as simple as money and balancing the books.

      • Karl

        25 January 2014 at 19:32

        @red astair: Maybe you’re right. Maybe it is as simple as that and I’m just over-thinking this.

    • Jay Wire

      25 January 2014 at 18:30

      What can Mata do that Kagawa can’t? Many things. For one he is quicker,stronger and more of a playmaker than Kagawa. In my view they are similar but not identical players. Mata is more likely to adapt out wide than Kagawa and will create more chances than Kagawa. Now I’m not shooting Shinji down,far from it. I have watched Kagawa play before and know exactly what he can do. He is not your typical playmaker because his game is based on being in serious proximity to goal,whether from the left or through the middle. He rarely makes more than two touches before releasing the ball for a pass or shot. That’s his game. His biggest skill is attacking intelligence. Space,movement and split second magic. He needs a system based on quick tempo,dynamic movement and short passing. Critically,he is very ineffective when he is playing very deep or a considerable distance from goal. He is a very different attacker to Mata or Silva in that these guys are primarily playmakers who can dribble with the ball whereas Kagawa is a movement based link up player who provides the final killer action that directly leads to goal. It’s very sad because with Mata and Januzaj and Rooney,the options in attack could have been unlimited because they all have their unique qualities. If played right,Mata and Kagawa could easily become the most exciting attacking combo in the league. As long as you play them in attacking roles instead of width based functions,you could have Mata central Kagawa left or vice versa and they will still be incredibly effective. Moyes simply needs to dump the wide system. No serious people play like that anymore. A strategy based on crossing is a very poor strategy. Dump it. And for crying out loud we need a playmaker in midfield. And can someone please kidnap Ashley Young

      • Karl

        25 January 2014 at 19:43

        @Jay Wire: What you say makes sense.
        I asked the questions because I really want to know. I have not seen Kagawa in action before he came to United. Didn’t really take a liking to him in the beginning, but saw something in him in the pas few months that got me totally sold on him.

        I don’t know too much about Mata as I have not checked him out in detail. I’m not a footballing expert. Just someone that loves United and wants to be entertained. If Mata’s addition can help with that, then I’m all for it. I just can’t help but feel that it won’t matter much because nothing I have seen from the manager thus far has given me hope of better things to come. I doubt he will change his ways.

      • Sam Preston

        25 January 2014 at 21:06

        @Jay Wire: Thanks for the comment, hopefully you enjoyed the piece.

        I agree that Mata has more qualities than Kagawa (and also that Kagawa isn’t a bad player); I also think Mata is a class above Kagawa, which is why his arrival excites me so much. I also agree that the pair could both play in the same side, given different tactical roles, by Moyes.

    • Sam Preston

      25 January 2014 at 21:04

      @Karl: Mourinho has other options; Hazard, Oscar, Schurrle, Willian and now Salah, so he could afford to give them the challenge of buying into his work-rate-centric style, knowing that he had alternatives if, as Mata hasn’t, one of them failed to adapt. If Mourinho was in Moyes’ position, where Rooney was one of his only world-class talents, he would have found a way to patch things up, and Mata wouldn’t be leaving.

      I agree with the above comment; certain managers and certain players don’t fit together, and this is all that appears to have happened between Mourinho and Mata, in my view.

  6. Leon

    25 January 2014 at 17:43

    Good article, well done

    • Sam Preston

      25 January 2014 at 21:07

      @Leon: Thanks for the kind words, Leon, glad you enjoyed it!

  7. Sir Cecil

    25 January 2014 at 18:05

    A lot of United supporters are in for a shock. Jose Mourinho does not get rid of players without good reason. Juan Mata is extremely skillful – great first touch, lovely weight of pass, speed of thought, a great eye for a through ball and a solid finisher.
    But. It’s a fact that with Mata in the side for the last two seasons, Chelsea finished lower, and more points behind the leaders, than at any time since before the Abramovich era. Two seasons, two lowest positions.
    Yet how could this be anything to do with Mata, who did so well he was voted player of the year twice in succession?
    Very simple really. The player is a highlights-reel specialist. Show the highlights of a Chelsea win and Mata will feature, with a neat pass, a clever flick or a firm finish. People remember that. They see it enough times and they think it’s the culmination of a game-load of brilliance. But the actuality is very different. You see, Mata plays for ten minutes of each half. The other 70 minutes of the game he is almost invisible. And it’s during that time that his team can lose games – or at least, more games than they should. This is the difference between a great like Zola and a luxury like Mata – neither would ever be described as a tackler or defensive-minded, but Zola would show energy and commitment for 90 minutes. Even with his smaller physique, Zola was stronger and braver than Mata. A loss of points would never be attributable to Zola slacking for the majority of a game. However, that’s not the case with Mata.
    But let’s not compare Mata to an old Chelsea man. Rather, think of Man Utd players like Giggs or Scholes. If they played with the lack of defensive responsibility, challenge and energy shown by Mata, one would undoubtedly say “What’s the matter with them? They must be carrying injuries”.

    Jumping forward, a comparison with other current midfielders shows the likes of Silva, Corzola, Cabaye, Oscar, Modric, Xavi, Iniesta and a host of other current creative midfield players as more committed than Mata and, as a result, providing more sustained skills throughout the duration of every game. Those non-Utd who know Mata’s fear of grazing himself in a tackle will be pleased it is Mata who has gone to Old Trafford rather than any of the aforementioned. Even when Mata stirs himself to trot back into a hotly-contested part of the field, he will do nothing when he gets there. No tackles, no determination. If the ball breaks to him, he has the skill to use it well and sharply, but if it breaks to an opponent, Mata will just watch it go by with not a trace of effort to put things right.
    This is why Mourinho wanted him out. And as far as Mourinho is concerned, he’s passed a problem on to Man. Utd, not a saviour.
    Needless to say, there will be a honeymoon period when Mata’s undoubted skill and vision woos his new audience. But that will soon dissipate if the rest of the team doesn’t cover for his deficiencies. He is a player who allows midfield opponents the same freedom he himself requires, which can be disastrous.

    Mata is not the only out-of-favour Chelsea player who flatters to deceive. Lukaku at Everton is a clumsy beast who is more of a potential Emile Heskey than a Drogba. But again, highlights of games show his power and golalscoring, so everyone believes he is a 90-minute nightmare for any defender. Fact is, the Everton supporters are now cottoning-on to his obvious deficiencies and it’s clear that Mourinho was quite right to farm him out rather than trusting him to lead the line for one of the top teams in the world.
    Mourinho will also be proven right in his ejection of Mata. He knows what he’s doing and United followers will come to see why Mata was allowed to join them without a glimmer of a fight to keep him. Yes, there will be initial excitement as fans initially experience the good side of Mata’s game in United’s colors, but the the whispers will soon follow, as his lack of 90-minute graft and his strong sense of self-preservation become obvious. This is a case of “might be”. It’s a case of “this is how it is”. If Mata’s contributions could be changed for the better, Mourinho would have done it – just as he did with Joe Cole, Robben, even Lampard. But the Chelsea manager weighed up Mata and saw there was nothing that could be done. It’s either take it or leave it and what you see is what you get.

    Apparently, Man Utd like what they see and that’s what they’ve got. Mourinho wanted more.

    • Moscow

      25 January 2014 at 19:34

      @Sir Cecil: Some very useful observations here. I’m suspicious that we are on the wrong end of this deal in the long term. Mourinho has his eyes firmly set on Rooney, as he is satisfied with his creative triumvirate behind his lone striker role, the final piece of his attacking jigsaw which requires a hard-working, technically sound forward who can link do the donkey work of being available through the channels. It’s obvious who the candidate is for the vacated No 10 jersey for Chelsea.

      The Mata sale has essentially funded the purchases of the defensive Matic and the more attack minded ball playing Salah, which has directly met the needs of his relatively lacklustre midfield which will be purged of the more sluggish Essien who looks to be on his way to Milan and old Lampard who is a strong bet for retirement in the summer. Zero net spend, yet all the chess pieces are in place for fully functional 4-2-3-1.

      I think it speaks volumes that not only does Mata represent a bargain sale at close to £40 million, but the relaxed, almost enthusiastic nature of the transfer emphasizes that Mourinho does not see us a direct rival regardless of all the sweet-talk and backhanded compliments given Moyes’ way in the press.

      I have a bad feeling about this and I want to be proved wrong.

      • Sam Preston

        25 January 2014 at 21:58

        @Moscow: Thanks for taking the time to comment.

        I also fear that Rooney, with less than 18 months left on his contract, still might leave for Chelsea. I would like to think that Mata has been bought to share the burden on Rooney, but it is equally plausible that he has been bought as his replacement.

        I must admit I was startled that we managed to procure Mata without losing Rooney, and I’m not entirely convinced he won’t leave in the summer.

        As for your comment that Mourinho can’t view United as a serious rival because he has sold us Mata, I would direct you to a couple of his comments. While nothing Mourinho says can be trusted 100%, sometimes it pays to take him at face value. In the summer, he expressed his surprise that English rivals don’t trade players between themselves, in the same way as they do in say, Italy, for example, and the Mata sale merely proves his conviction in that belief, in my view. He also said recently that he would have sold Mata to City, Arsenal, or anyone else; they just didn’t bid. Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether we would have been able to buy Mata if we were sitting above Chelsea in the league, but I think it is easy to overstate Mourinho’s disregard for United, especially given the current negativity around the club; something we should be careful not to do.

        Thanks again for the comment; hope you enjoyed the piece anyway!

    • Karl

      25 January 2014 at 20:05

      @Sir Cecil: I sincerely hope you’re wrong and that I’m just being cynical, but you raise some very interesting observations. Maybe you’re right, maybe Moscow is right about Rooney. Maybe you’re both right. Or maybe as Red Astair stated, it’s perhaps just about the money. I don’t know, but what I do know for sure is that Mourinho is no fool. Trying not to over-analyse this and enjoy the prospect, but I can’t help but feel “suspicious”.

    • Sam Preston

      25 January 2014 at 21:51

      @Sir Cecil: Firstly, thanks for such a detailed comment on my work. It’s greatly appreciated and I hope you enjoyed the article, even if you disagree with aspects of it.

      I think we agree on Mata’s attacking qualities; you described them all extremely well.

      You point to the fact that Chelsea have finished in their two lowest positions since 2003 during Mata’s two seasons with the club, and attribute that to the player’s poor work-rate. Personally, I feel this is a tad unfair.

      I would argue that the reign of Andre Villas Boas; during which he tried to transform the playing staff and style, without the backing of Abramovich and his senior players, before being sacked, was more of a reason for Chelsea’s poor league position in 2011-12 than Mata’s playing style. I feel it is also worth noting that Mata played a pivotal role in Chelsea’s Champions League win that season, then scored in Spain’s Euro 2012 final win over Italy, two months later.

      The following season saw more managerial unrest at the Bridge. Popular Roberto di Matteo was sacked, and replaced by Rafa Benitez, who never received the backing of the fans. This surely undermined any ambitions Chelsea had of winning the league,(given that they were top when United travelled to face RdM’s Chelsea in October, and went on to finish third) to a greater degree than Mata’s reported lack of work-rate. Also, Mata scored 20 goals last season, at the focal point of Benitez’s team; so even if he is a highlights player, United are going to see an awful lot of them.

      I also feel, as stated above, that the issue of his work-rate has been exaggerated since Mourinho mentioned it, such is his standing within the game. It had not been mentioned as an issue before Jose said it, and Mata was selected from a large pool of midfielders to make Spain’s Euro 2012 squad; a side known for their intense pressing play. To give you an idea of the strength of competition Mata beat off; Pedro and Isco where among those who didn’t make the plane.

      Also, Mata made 64 appearances last season, after having been to both the European Championships and Olympics, so to question his commitment to his team-mates’ cause seems harsh, to me. Moreover, if Mata did look laboured when you saw him last season, the weight of games he played may go some way to explaining why.

      Although it’s not totally relevant, I think you’re a tad harsh on Lukaku. This may make me a sucker to highlights, but while he is undoubtedly a tad raw (he’s only 20) I believe Lukaku is Chelsea’s best striker, and Mourinho’s men would sit top of the league as we speak if he was still at Chelsea. On top of his goals and power, I think his movement, control and passing have been very effective for Everton and I haven’t heard any of their fans complaining about his contribution, despite his recent goal drought.

      Mourinho is a brilliant motivator, but even he can’t work with every player. He grew frustrated with Cole, always subbing him, and sold Robben, which he must regret given his success in Bayern’s high-intensity style. I believe Mata is the same; Mourinho clearly believes he has better options available to him, but this doesn’t mean Mata is a bad option, or will be a problem for United, in my view.

      However, time will tell, but I am not expecting to be disappointed with Mata’s overall contribution to the side. Thanks again for taking the time to comment; I don’t write these articles to produce universal agreement, but rather to provoke discussion and thought, and it’s great that you wanted to comment.

      Cheers, Sam

  8. colver

    25 January 2014 at 19:43

    I agree Sir Cecil. Mata is a luxury signing. If the rest of the team is working hard and pulling their weight he can add a finishing touch with his creativity. But I am not sure he has the presence of someone like Rooney or Cantona. After all Kagawa also scored a bunch of goals and assists at Dortmund and was lauded as their best player. But at a club like ours he has been more or less invisible. And Veron was possibly one of the most technically gifted players to grace our club and he also failed to shine.

    While a good coach could find a way to integrate the talents of Januzaj, Mata, Rooney and Van Persie and even Hernandez into a cohesive and deadly attacking force, nothing I’ve seen from Moyes suggests he has this ability.

    • Sam Preston

      25 January 2014 at 21:15

      @colver: Thanks for the comment, it’s very much appreciated.

      I personally don’t see Mata as as much of a luxury as has been made out, as I feel his perceived lack of work-rate has been greatly exaggerated. It wasn’t a widespread view until Mourinho brought it to people’s attention, and there are still many experts who believe he has been wrong to leave Mata out of his side, and sell him.

      I think Mata, while a different type of personality, shares the same game-changing qualities as Rooney and Cantona, and is a cut above Kagawa, in terms of class. I understand your skepticism with regards Kagawa’s success at Dortmund compared to his relative failure at United, but, for me, the Mata situation is different. Mata has performed exceptionally well in the Premier League for two years, as well as being a part of Champions League, European Championship and World Cup winning teams, giving him a greater pedigree than Kagawa, and making him much more likely to be successful at United.

      With regards the comparison to Veron, it is widely regarded that he was unsuccessful because he could not form an understanding and partnership with Roy Keane. While you may say Mata may have similar difficulties because Rooney plays in his preferred number 10 role, the Spaniard has performed excellently in wide areas at Chelsea and for Spain, and is so intelligent that I believe the pair will thrive on playing together, not struggle.

      Thanks again for the feedback though, hope you enjoyed the article!

  9. John Bosco

    26 January 2014 at 10:39

    @sir cecil you are very correct about your observations and detailed analysis of mata’s weakness,I’d like you to do the same for messi/ronaldo.Mata is a great player, same as ozil,messi. We don’t need them to track back or do a defensive job,didn’t the likes of valencia and young did all of that?we are 7th and we’ve done all of that.what we need is mata and is skills,let’s us enjoy breaking our transfer record on a very good player. Wake me up when its tuesday

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