How Mata Can Improve Manchester United Youngsters

Scott RomFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2014

Manchester United's new signing Juan Mata displays his new shirt before a press conference at the team's Carrington training ground, Manchester, England, Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. With Manchester United in danger of missing out on the Champions League next season, Juan Mata's arrival at Old Trafford for a club record fee of 37.1 million pounds ($61.2 million) is certainly an emergency move. But it also marks the first step in the rebuilding process of England's most titled club. After a botched transfer campaign last summer that was followed by the club's lackluster first half of the season, United now looks determined to allow manager David Moyes the opportunity to build his own team.(AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

When Manchester United started the 1995-1996 season badly, the media quickly wrote off the team. With the likes of Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis all leaving in the summer and lads from the youth team attempting to fill their boots, it was easy for Alan Hansen and Co. to claim that you'd never win anything with kids.

Eric Cantona returned from his suspension a few months into that season and turned everything around. United clawed back the 12 points Newcastle lead the table by and won the Premier League again.

Peter Schmeichel has since reflected to on the impact Cantona had on that team, particularly the young players, and hailed the day he signed as the turning point for the club.

I remember this day. It was a day that changed everything for us players as well. He changed the mentality and changed the way of everything. All the kids we’ve seen grow up with Manchester United from that period, they’ve really benefited from that and you could go and speak to David Beckham, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes about him. They will always point to him as he was the guy.

Cantona inspired that generation of players and made the world of difference to the club. Imagine how Fergie's Fledglings might have turned out had they been failures in their first season, instead of Double winners. Would they have won the Treble three years later?

United's current state is far worse than it was in 1995, and there's no denying that confidence is at its lowest for years. Just like the club needed a spark like Cantona to win that first league title 26 years back in 1993, and again to win the Double in 1996, United are in desperate need of something special this season.

Less than three weeks ago, when United lost their third consecutive game against Swansea in the FA Cup, there seemed little-to-no hope for the Reds to salvage their season. Nothing could turn this around. But when a helicopter landed at the Carrington training ground and a suave Spaniard stepped off, finally United fans could hope again. Maybe, just maybe, this season wasn't going to be a total write-off after all.

Juan Mata has said all the right things since putting pen to paper on a contract with United, singing the praises of his new team mates, of the fans, of the training ground and of the stadium. He is desperate to get some regular football, after he was bizarrely left out of Jose Mourinho's plans, and will play his socks off to get a place on the plane to Rio with the Spanish national team.

Just like the youngsters benefited from the world-class presence of Cantona in 1995-1996, maybe this team's younger players, like Adnan Januzaj, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck and others, will find inspiration from Mata. For now, fourth place is their only real goal, but next season? Mata gives us belief that the decline of this year can be halted.