Chelsea Manager Jose Mourinho Playing a Risky Game If Juan Mata Leaves

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2014

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Rewind a couple of decades or so and it wouldn't even be an issue up for debate. Even 10 years ago, Juan Mata would be staying at Chelsea. Regardless.

In 2013, it's somewhat of a different scenario altogether.

If reports in The Mirror—and plenty of other media outlets, we might add—are to be believed, Chelsea's Spanish maestro could very well be departing Stamford Bridge this month, swapping London for Madrid.

How we've got to this stage after Mata picked up the club's Player of the Year gong two years running is a major talking point. Nevertheless, here we are and talk of a transfer to Atletico Madrid is dividing Chelsea fans right now.

Should he stay or should he go? Joe Strummer asked that very question himself with The Clash. If he stayed there it would trouble and he left it would be double, or so the song goes.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Jordi Amat of Swansea City closes down Juan Mata of Chelsea  during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on December 26, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty I
Clive Rose/Getty Images

It's the same where Mata is concerned and his manager Jose Mourinho is playing a risky game in flirting with the notion.

Such is Chelsea's embarrassment of riches in attacking midfield, even without Mata consistently among their number this term, the Blues find themselves sitting in third place and two points behind Arsenal—the Gunners widely seen as playing their best football in some time.

Yet, for all the success Chelsea may have enjoyed, there is a considerable void without Mata around. Something doesn't quite seem right.

Mourinho is fortunate as he experienced something very similar at Real Madrid last season. At Chelsea his ground swell of support means things are working in his favor.

Much like Mata in West London, Iker Casillas is a crowd favorite at the Bernabeu. Sure, his reputation and adoration goes a little deeper than Mata's at Stamford Bridge, but what they resemble to both sets of supporters is something very similar.

DERBY, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05:  Jose Mourinho manager of Chelsea looks on during the Budweiser FA Cup Third Round match between Derby County and Chelsea at iPro Stadium on January 5, 2014 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

They're leaders, players who the team is built around and most importantly are symbols of success the club has enjoyed.

When Mourinho decided Casillas needed to be replaced in his line-up last year, it not only turned some sections of the crowd against him, but also turned Madrid supporters on each other.

Mourinho drew the battle lines with his selection policy and Madriestas were either with him or against him.

It's very similar at Chelsea, only Mourinho knows he has the backing of the crowd as credit—he hears his name sung aloud enough at Stamford Bridge to remind him of that much.

Yet Chelsea have not endured a major crisis just yet. The club's strikers and their struggles in front of goal has been a regular stick with which to beat the Blues, but outside of that, it's been a quiet campaign on the dramatic front.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14:  (L-R) Juan Mata of Chelsea and Stuart O’Keefe of Crystal Palace challenge for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on December 14, 2013 in London, England.
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

However, if Chelsea allow Mata to join Atletico this month, what then?

Oscar, Willian and Eden Hazard may be in good form right now, although the impact of long Premier League season cannot be overlooked.

Come the business end, it's the likes of Mata who have served Chelsea best in the past couple of seasons and if he isn't around for a repeat, it will only amplify the predicament the Spaniard and those who appreciate his contribution have found themselves this term.

The problem is, Mata is simply too good a player for Mourinho to turn his back on. For every game Chelsea struggle without him, a fine Mata performance elsewhere, be it at Atletico or another of his many admirers, will remind Chelsea of what they're missing.

And does Mourinho really have that much faith in his other attacking midfielders to allow Mata to depart? If so, the Portuguese is a little more head strong than we may have thought.

The issue with Mata isn't what he gives this Chelsea team going forward. Mourinho has stated on more than one occasion he expects more defensively and as a coach he must work to bring that very quality out of the player.

That's Mourinho's job. He must make do with what he has at his disposal and build a team around it, otherwise why is he coaching at all?

Time will make Mata the player Mourinho wants and now isn't the moment to be turning his back on that. Should he choose to, it may very well come back to haunt him.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes.


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