Juan Mata by no means fairly slot in at Manchester United. The Spaniard’s expertise and character at all times made him a preferred determine at Outdated Trafford, however when his departure was introduced final week, it signalled the tip to a curious and, at worst, baffling seven-and-a-half-year spell with the membership.
Signed in January 2014 by David Moyes for a then-club-record price of £37.5m, Mata arrived seemingly because the antidote to early teething issues underneath the Scot, simply six months after he changed Sir Alex Ferguson. Moyes and the brand new CEO, Ed Woodward, had didn’t make any actual assertion recruits in the summertime; they’d chased Gareth Bale and Cesc Fabregas to no avail, ultimately settling for Marouane Fellaini from Moyes’ outdated membership Everton late within the window. To sum up the mess they’d made, they’d missed the prospect to signal the Belgian at a knockdown worth. All that actually confirmed was the panic that had set in by the point the deal was achieved.
Within the winter, Moyes was already floundering. The title defence handed to him by Ferguson was in tatters and his aspect wanted inspiration; by that time, there was no actual forethought into the place it ought to come from, however a big-name was wanted to, on the very least, purchase a while. However the place would one turn into out there at the moment within the season? It simply so occurred that Jose Mourinho, again at Chelsea for a second spell and famed for at all times taking a dislike to one in every of his gamers, was within the strategy of usurping Mata from the body at Stamford Bridge. Mata was the darling of the Chelsea followers, their Participant of the 12 months two years working, however Mourinho had been summoned to revive some order after some turbulent years in west London and what he mentioned, went.
So, excellent match, proper? A confirmed Premier League star out there for a deal to go well with all events, coming right into a group with no guile and in determined want of ingenuity. It wasn’t that easy, as a result of Moyes and Woodward had acted on Mata’s availability and little else. There was no plan to combine him, and he really contributed to an imbalance throughout the squad, giving Moyes an prompt headache.
Working finest as a quantity 10, within the pockets of area between midfield and assault, Mata struggled to search out his finest place. That was partly as a result of Moyes had simply reintegrated Wayne Rooney and given him a brand new contract — paradoxically after he spent all the summer season flirting with Mourinho and Chelsea — after which got here the Fellaini concern. Three gamers had been vying for one area, so Moyes improvised and compromised. Mata was deployed on the fitting of a 3 in behind the striker, and never surprisingly, he couldn’t thrive.
Moyes paid for 2 disastrous home windows along with his job by March. He has since spoken about attempting to plan round his six-year contract, which whereas exposing the injustice he’d suffered, confirmed nativity on his half. Louis van Gaal changed him, and the philosophy and squad modified; there was extra forethought concerned underneath the Dutchman, however nonetheless Mata couldn’t discover his place constantly. There have been glimpses of his high quality – a brace in a 2015 victory over Liverpool at Anfield chief amongst them — however hardly sufficient justification for his standing.
Van Gaal gained the FA Cup a 12 months later, however was then sacked. Mata did surprisingly properly underneath Mourinho, the person got here in subsequent, contemplating the style of their parting at Chelsea; it was no coincidence that because the group morphed into needing extra creativity from central areas underneath the Portuguese after which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, requires Mata’s involvement elevated. However as he aged, his presence as a primary group participant diminished. He signed a brand new contract in 2019, quite inexplicably, and as with various first group gamers, he leaves in all probability years after he ought to have achieved.
There was no lack of goodwill to wave Mata off, however his exit was essential. It’s a unhappy story of what might need been; the last word story of the fitting man on the incorrect time. What follows subsequent must be a swansong the 34-year-old totally deserves.
He has quite a bit to supply, off the pitch in addition to on it. You’d be exhausting pressed to discover a higher skilled, and his calming affect off the pitch will show as priceless as his intermittent magic on it. That’s all to come back in a becoming finish to his profession, extra becoming than it ever felt in Manchester.