Since joining United in January 2014 for what at the time was a club record fee hitting a cool £37.1 million, Juan Mata has failed to find a permanent place in the struggling squad. Some have called for him to be moved on or even used as a super sub but in my opinion, Mata should be dropping United – not the other way around.
When Mata joined in the winter transfer window of 2014, United lucked out. They were going through a tricky season under then manager David Moyes and were in desperate need of a player with his attributes. Enter twice Chelsea player of the year and World Cup winner Juan Mata. Praised for his ability to create space and opportunities for his forwards, Mata was a prized asset for any team.
Unless of course that team is managed by the Special One, Jose Mourinho. Obsessed with changing the forward thinking player into one that was willing to expel his energy on tracking back, Mata found himself more often sidelined than not.
Surely a player who had produced so many assists, was cherished by supporters and was part of Chelsea’s first ever Champions League winning squad deserved better than just a space on the bench. At Chelsea or Manchester United.
In his two happy years at Chelsea, Mata was their driving force creating 25 assists and 197 chances. But under Mourinho, Moyes and now current manager Louis van Gaal in almost the same time frame, Mata’s stat’s have dropped considerably to only nine assists with 92 chances created.
So who is to blame? I don’t believe Mata is at fault. He rarely makes a starting eleven which is important to help a player not only get used to the team tactics but also to keep them match ready. Under Moyes, Mata was given more opportunities which in turn led to him scoring six league goals in his final six matches of last season proving that a run of games is everything to a player.
But unfortunately van Gaal refuses to allow the player to play in his traditional number 10 role, opting instead to use Wayne Rooney as the playmaker and others as out-and-out strikers. And while United sit in fourth with ten games to go, their performances have been highly unconvincing, leading to top players like Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao bearing the brunt of supporters’ criticisms.
I do hope United can find a way to properly integrate Juan Mata into their regular starting eleven as when he is at his best, he truly can be the difference between winning the Premier League and not even making top four. Such is the player’s vision and high level of football intelligence but he has to have the support of his manager.
Fortunately, if worst comes to worst, Mata will always be able to find himself a club willing to give him a chance. He has too much experience, won too many trophies and let’s be honest, he is better than many players that play his position.
I just hope United realise his value before it is too late.