Wednesday, January 29, 2014

So does it really Mata?

Given the flurry of debate already about Juan Mata's 37M move from Chelsea to United and my being a Chelsea fan, I thought I would wait until I'd seen Mata in a United shirt before committing some thoughts to (virtual) paper.

Mata's departure from Chelsea has been a strange one for many people. Normally the thought of your best player from the previous two seasons being sold to ManU of all people would have the natives revolting on the Kings Road.

Arsenal have had a series of bitter battles over previous seasons before ultimately losing players to direct rivals. This however feels very different as it was clearly as much Chelsea's choice as United's to make the transfer happen.

Seeing Mata pull on the United shirt, I felt strangely ambivalent. Had it been Drogba or Lampard in their prime or now Oscar or Eden Hazard I'm sure I would have felt very different, angry even. So why not with Mata?

It may be there is an element of aesthetics with Mata. Oscar buzzes and Hazard always looks full of menace and intent whereas Mata doesn't really look like an athlete, he runs a bit flat footed and even his beard is a bit wispy with a hint of ginger.

Mata during his time was superb for Chelsea and whilst they struggled in the league, the Champions League run alone gives him an almost deified status, but one that apparently quickly evaporated.

I think that I and several other Chelsea fans experience (rather than suffer) an all powerful phenomenon called 'in Jose we trust' and I think a huge part of my being relaxed about this is that Mourinho appears to be even more relaxed about it and to be in complete control.

From the moment Mourinho returned to Chelsea it was clear there was an issue with Mata with a sale to PSG or possibly Barcelona mooted in August.

Mourinho as ever has used the media to the fullest during this time. At the same time as leaving him largely on the bench, he has talked Mata up hugely helping to pitch his value to suitors.

Mourinho has also at the same time trumpeted building the team around Oscar - a decision that is hard to argue with - and made himself appear benevolent in allowing the sale of an unhappy player especially given it's a World Cup year. Mourinho's mastery of the media continues unchecked.

There are of course elements of the deal that make a lot of sense for Chelsea. They have in the past been horribly guilty of buying older players with litle or no resale value.

In the good old days, other than lining the pockets of other clubs it mattered little to Chelsea but the realities of FFP mean deals such as that of Mata and De Brunye are hugely important especially when you have to do things like buy back Nemandja Matic for six times what you sold him for. Moving on...

What is interesting about this transfer is that Mata's initial clause allowing him to leave Chelsea for the right bid excluded United. So what changed?

Well obviously United have had a stinker so far this season and Mourinho may even think Chelsea selling to United is a show of strength. It is obviously a calculated gamble.

Were I running Chelsea, I would be thinking of the ramifications for the club that has been my biggest rival in the Abramovich era should they finish outside the top four.

United's income is massive but even they would baulk at missing out on Champions League qualification given the financial reality of the loans the club has outstanding with the Glazers.

One thing we will never know is what would have happened to Chelsea had they not won the Champions League in such unlikely fashion.

The financial reality of missing on qualifying for the tournament would have probably precluded the purchases of Oscar and Hazard who may have not even wanted to come in that instance regardless.

United can probably survive one season out of the CL given the stature and revenues of the club - Liverpool remain a huge draw as an example - but it could have also become a slippery slope.

Chelsea have offered United a definite lifeline in their quest to stay in the top four but this may not even have come in to their thinking. It is a peculiarity to England that the top clubs have an almost iron fisted will to not sell anyone to each other, it happens regularly in Italy, Germany and Spain.

From United's point of view, it is a huge shot in the arm for a team that has been so bereft of quality and who has been so heavily criticised for missing Summer transfer targets.

What is less clear is how Moyes assembles his team. Like Mourinho, Moyes' teams tend to be hardworking and tactically disciplined. Mata was deemed by Mourinho not to fit into this mould.

Moyes' tactics have so far proven very cautious shown up in his ability to use Kagawa. Mata is probably a level up in terms of quality from Kagawa but he is a similiar impish type of player.

Mata one would imagine would fit in wonderfully at Arsenal or Barcelona where short passing and possession is the order of the day, Moyes' teams tend to be more about tempo. Fine player or not, both Moyes and Mata are both going to have to adapt.

Presumably the reason United handed Moyes a six year contract is because they believe he has the nous to figure out how to solve riddles like how to play the likes of Van Persie, Rooney, Mata and Januzaj together.

United have sorely lacked creativity this season but one wonders if the criticism over the handling of their interest in Fabregas and missing Ozil completely has just forced them to buy the next diminutive No10 that was available.

Over time we will of course find out who got the best end of the deal. Chelsea may care not, they have reinvested the money quickly and Mohamed Salah looks far more of a Mourinho player in terms of his energy.

It is hard to imagine that any team would not benefit from having Juan Mata on their books but Moyes in particular is going to have to work hard to evolve his tactics and system to get the best out of his new playmaker and accomodate both Rooney and RVP.

For my own part, I wish Juan Mata all the best, 20 goals a season for the next five years, I don't even mind the odd player of the season award, just no trophies though please unless he's in a Spain shirt - No Nonsense.