This is a pivotal time in Juan Mata’s career. The World Cup is on the horizon, but the implications are far greater than just the one approaching international tournament.
Such is the brilliance of Spain’s depth, the waning powers of the ageing Xavi and Xabi Alonso won’t be seen as an insurmountable obstacle. Instead, Vicente Del Bosque, and whomever succeeds him, will have an array of options to choose from, each able to influence the direction the national team takes in the future.
It should say a lot about the situation at Chelsea that Jose Mourinho’s side were able to convincingly beat West Ham on the weekend. A three-nil win and a complete contrast to what we’ve seen prior. A few weeks ago, a positive win against Schalke in the Champions League has set Chelsea up to qualify from their group. Notably, each of these games, of which both can be deemed highly important for one reason or another, didn’t feature Mata, who failed to make it off the bench.
The clamour and even outrage has lessened over the past few weeks. Since the 1-1 draw against Tottenham, Mata has featured with more regularity. The problem, though, is that beyond the appearances here and there, a doubt still lingers about Mourinho’s intentions, or lack thereof, for the Spaniard.
Mata is 25. He could get into the first XI of most teams in Europe. At present, probably only Bayern Munich could make a strong case for omitting him from their starting line-up. During the season in which Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo failed to find any consistency in the league, Mata was the constant; brought in during the summer of 2011 and up until this season the player who has been head and shoulders above everyone else at the club.
He’s the type of player you build teams around. If Mourinho isn’t happy with his defensive work that’s fine; find other means of compensating. After all, the Portuguese had to cater for Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid.
But this situation at Chelsea doesn’t appear to be a short-term battle to spark something in Mata. It genuinely does appear that Mourinho has plans that simply don’t cater to the former Valencia midfielder. If that is the case, and as unbelievable as the sight and thought may be, Mata needs to search for another club in January.
Atletico Madrid are rumoured to be interested, and why not? Diego Simeone’s side are unlikely to have the funds to take Mata on permanently, but imagine what a half-season at the Vicente Calderon could do for Spanish football on the whole. On one hand you’re talking about a La Liga side who have everything needed to wrestle the title away from Barcelona: a prolific striker, a world-class goalkeeper and now the genius of Mata dictating play from midfield. But think of what an in-form Mata could do for Spain’s prospects in Brazil next summer.
It would be strange to see Mata left at home for the Wold Cup. The importance, though, is how greatly he features. The injury troubles of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and David Silva could open the door for a regular place in the XI. Conversely, his own lack of playing time this season could allow for, say, Koke or Pedro to step in.
The affinity held between Mata and the Chelsea support makes an exit understandably difficult to stomach. At the same time, eventually an acceptance will be found that a player as good as he simply can’t go on being a peripheral figure in any side.
Chelsea’s transfer policy hasn’t helped the situation. Why bring in two more attacking midfielders in Willian and Andre Schurrle when Kevin De Bruyne is also returning from a spell at Werder Bremen? I’ve asked this before: was there any real dialogue between the owner and Mourinho as to the need for strengthening (or complicating) the midfield? If so, why is this the situation we’re currently seeing?
Does Mata need to leave Stamford Bridge for the good of his career?
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