In fact, given his pair of Player of the Year gongs bestowed on him by the club following each of the last two campaigns, it could be argued the Spaniard has been Chelsea’s best player since arriving from Valencia in 2011.
That is, until now.
Since Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge, the 25-year-old has found himself on the fringes of the first team—five times an unused substitute and occasionally omitted from the matchday squad altogether.
The manager, it seems, has Oscar and Eden Hazard among the first players on his team-sheet, while Andre Schurrle has been preferred on the right of a supporting trio just behind the centre-forward.
The reason: Oscar and Hazard are arguably more willing to take on defensive duties and Mata, who is a bit more of a drifter, clashes stylistically with Mourinho.
The situation has alerted Paris Saint-Germain to the World Cup and European Championship-winning playmaker’s availability. After reportedly making a move for Mata during the summer, the Ligue 1 giants are thought to be keen on bringing the player to France in January.
According to a Thursday report on Goal.com, PSG would be willing to pay upwards of €41 million for Mata—about €10 million more than the Blues spent on him just over two years ago.
In purely football terms, the transaction would make all kinds of sense for the capital side.
Given Javier Pastore’s persistent struggles, manager Laurent Blanc has lacked a playmaker to operate in the hole behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic and has instead tended to opt for a 4-3-2-1 formation with two of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Edinson Cavani, Lucas Moura and Jeremy Menez playing on either side of the Swede.
Mata’s addition would give Blanc another tactical option while filling a creativity void that might be one of his side’s only shortcomings so far this season.
It would also offer the Spain international an escape route from a situation in which he’s clearly neither wanted nor valued and perhaps rescue his chances of playing a meaningful role for his country at the upcoming World Cup.
Mata, to his credit, has handled the hardship bravely and on Wednesday told Talksport he was still “happy” at Chelsea.
“I have always felt the support of the fans,” he said. “I want to play as much as I can, but if you want to win titles you need 24 to 25 players ready to play.”
He added: “I always train my best and try to do my job the best I can. I have to be ready to play at my best at any time and that’s what I do.”
If only Mourinho’s approach in dealing with a player of such obvious talent was as gentlemanly.
Juan Mata: Of players with 5+ PL apps this season, only David Silva (every 22 mins) has made a key pass more often than @juanmata10 (23.6)— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 30, 2013
It goes without saying that just about any side would be better with a fit, happy and capable Juan Mata in it, and in that regard Chelsea are no different. For them, the best resolution to what has been a bizarre set of circumstances would be to continue bringing the player along—helping him adapt to Mourinho’s system while making use of his abilities.
But that seems unlikely to happen. And if he ends up leaving in just over two months PSG will be getting a useful midfielder with about the most positive disposition they could expect from a player.