Should Chelsea Consider Buying Juan Mata Back from Manchester United?

Daniel Tiluk@@danieltilukFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2016

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Those prepared to enjoy Jose Mourinho's apparent Manchester United takeover might extend into the millions. Worldwide supporters of England's pre-eminent footballing enterprise are foaming at the mouth to remove current manager Louis van Gaal and replace him with the proven Premier League winner.

Whether stars will align remains to be seen, but all reports—as documented by ESPN FC's Miguel Delaney—suggest the move is more probable than not.

One person likely dreading the Portuguese's proposed arrival, though, is Juan Mata. Chelsea's two-time player of the season was sold by Mourinho after both men realised the Spaniard's game was not suited to the demanding style the manager requires from his midfielders.

Sold to David Moyes' Manchester United for £37.1 million in January 2014, the Spanish playmaker struggled acclimating to life at Old Trafford after two seasons of managerial upheaval, but his abilityespecially when played in the "No. 10" rolecannot help but shine.

Imagining Jose Mourinho at Manchester United suits most involved, but certainly not Juan Mata.
Imagining Jose Mourinho at Manchester United suits most involved, but certainly not Juan Mata.Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Mourinho's would-be arrival at Carrington places every ounce of Mata's United progression in question.

An argument could be made Mourinho sold the then-25-year-old because he was too talented for the bench (a £37.1 million offer making that calculus easier). Chelsea's then-manager nominated Oscar as his preferred "No. 10" and Mata's qualities—as witnessed in Manchester—are greatly diminished when placed on the touchline.

It is a common understanding in modern football: Natural wingers can often play centrally, but most natural central-attacking midfielders struggle when placed in wide spaces.

Mata, as is customary, cannot cope with constant attention from full-backs and holding midfielders, nor does his game reflect any desire to track defensively.  The Spain international is one of the Premier League's best central attacking midfielders (only Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Eriksen, Mesut Ozil and/or David Silva would dispute the crown) and, like his contemporaries, he requires freedom behind his centre-forward(s) to flourish.

Mourinho's Chelsea couldn't afford such a luxury, and one suspects, if the Portuguese receives the position, neither would his version of Manchester United.

A possible saving grace is Mourinho's arrival is likely predicated on the Red Devils missing next season's Champions League; selling an under-contract, world-class talent without the carrot of European football to attract replacements is a dangerous proposition.

Whatever their personal relationship, Juan Mata and Jose Mourinho on the pitch are oil and water.
Whatever their personal relationship, Juan Mata and Jose Mourinho on the pitch are oil and water.IAN KINGTON/Getty Images

Would you take Juan Mata back for £30 million?#Chelsea #CFC

— ChelseaTalk (@ChelseaTaIk) February 11, 2016

"Where to next" for Juan Mata is a convoluted proposition.
"Where to next" for Juan Mata is a convoluted proposition.Michael Regan/Getty Images

If, however, the Daily Mail's Neil Ashton is correct—and Mata is sold (along with others) to help fund a rebuilding effort—where might the Spaniard land?

Looking across football's landscape, there are a handful of clubs who could afford the 27-year-old and need his services. Carlo Ancelotti's Bayern Munich, Massimiliano Allegri's Juventus and/or Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid (forgetting Atleti's ensuing transfer ban) are ideal destinations; but the most intriguing club is Chelsea.

Still beloved in SW6, Mata has maintained a fantastic relationship with the Stamford Bridge faithful, many of whom would welcome his re-arrival with open arms. Once Chelsea locate a permanent manager, he might do well calling Manchester United and discovering Mata's availability, if only to galvanise support from his new fanbase.

On the pitch, though, buying Mata back has consequences.

For purposes of sheer amazement, already listed in Roman Abramovich's book of attacking-midfield talent are: Christian Atsu, Lewis Baker, Jeremie Boga, Isaiah Brown, Juan Cuadrado, Eden Hazard, Kenedy, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Marko Marin, Victor Moses, Charly Musonda, Nathan, Oscar, Danilo Pantic, Pedro, Lucas Piazon, Bertrand Traore and Willian.

Regardless of where they are positioned behind a centre-forward, do the west Londoners really demand a 19th member on that list? Most logical supporters would say no. 

One of football's more classy characters, most Chelsea supporters would welcome Juan Mata's return.
One of football's more classy characters, most Chelsea supporters would welcome Juan Mata's return.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

If signing Mata slows the development of youth players or further muddies the proverbial waters, his arrival is not warranted. Only a Chelsea willing to sell auxiliary pieces should make the move, but they've shown no willingness (even under Mourinho) to abandoned stockpiling and their bloated loan system.

A Chelsea-Mata reunion seems a fantastic story, the prodigal son returning, but in strict footballing terms—leaving sentimentality at the door—the move does not make much (if any) sense.

That said, football frequently derails from the train tracks called "sanity."

Should Mourinho's arrival at Old Trafford mean Mata is forced to seek employment elsewhere, the club with the most vested interest in the creative Spaniard ply their trade at Stamford Bridge—and they are known to occasionally abandon whatever prevailing logic.


*Stats via; transfer fees via Soccerbase where not noted.