While Juan Mata’s arrival at Manchester United may represent the first tentative steps toward a new dawn at Old Trafford, the talented midfielder from Burgos is a long way from being the new Messiah at the Theatre of Dreams.
But in the spluttering, overrated winter transfer window that began slowly before petering out altogether at 11:00 p.m. on Jan. 31, Mata’s transfer represented the one moment in the entire proceedings when the whole kit and caboodle actually caught fire, and one the media were not about to let pass.
Players of his quality come up all too rarely, and there was always going to be huge media attention on his winning debut against Cardiff, where he certainly played well, but not quite at the heights that many elements of the press corps would have one believe.
Victory against Cardiff was followed by a swift reality check, when Stoke City (not for the first time) showed just what they thought of reputations, bringing their illustrious guests down to Earth, thanks to a fortunate deflection and a wonder strike from Charlie Adam.
Now that the dust has settled, we can ask the questions. Will Jose Mourinho live to regret selling the Spanish international? And just what will Mata bring to his new club?
Love him or hate him, you could never accuse Mourinho of prevarication when it comes to making football decisions.
The Chelsea boss likes nothing better than players prepared to go to war with him, and despite the fans’ adoration of the affable Juan, the spiky Portuguese coach decided he was going to be the one to sacrifice from the beginning of the season, possibly because he could raise as much money as he did for him.
United, on the other hand, have had Mata on their radar for some time as the type of playmaker they needed to work with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
With Chelsea’s Premier League obligations against the Old Trafford club concluded, the time was right to do a deal.
The move is a marriage made in heaven, because United need Mata as much as Mata needs United.
All Mata wants to do is play, and I’ve been saying for a long time now that United are in desperate need of radical surgery. Mata is the first incision into what will be a long and precarious procedure.
David Moyes knows he will be able to play him in any one of the attacking midfield roles, be it at No. 7, 10 or 11, and also if need be in the hole behind van Persie up front.
Above all, he knows he will take much of the pressure off the shoulders of an overworked Rooney, who will always be better when focused on doing the one thing he does best, rather than attempting to do everything.
In time, Mata will create a hatful of chances for his Dutch and English teammates, but perhaps it’s how he can connect with the precocious Adnan Januzaj that might be just as significant in the long term.
Aged just 19, the player born in Belgium of Kosovan-Albanian parents has already showed himself to be a potential star of the future.
Always a positive influence in the dressing room, the articulate, approachable, all-round good egg that is Mata could be just the role model the youngster needs to help him develop into the superstar he can undoubtedly become, while still keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
Whatever happens, make no mistake about it: The former Real Madrid, Valencia and Chelsea player will be settling down at Old Trafford for the long haul.
As for being the new Messiah, that’s a different ‘Mata’ altogether.
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