Former Manchester United right-back Gary Neville believes Juan Mata doesn't fit in with the "philosophy" of the club but would satisfy David Moyes' need to sign a world-class player in the current transfer window.
Neville, now working as a Sky Sports pundit, spoke about the potential deal on Monday Night Football, per the company's website:
Does he fit with what I would call the typical philosophy of Manchester United? I would say no.
The first question, I think, is where are you going to play? Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are up top if they are fit so where are you going to play him? Are you going to play him off the left or off the right
We've seen (Shinji) Kagawa play off the left, we saw Kleberson play at times off the left, we've seen Veron at Manchester United move to the left because you can't play central midfield.
Neville—who was reacting to the news United are set to bid £37 million for Chelsea's unwanted Spaniard, per Jason Burt of The Telegraph (subscription required)—is doubtful Mata would naturally slot into the current Old Trafford setup.
He suggested maybe Moyes "wants to play narrow wide players and maybe a three in midfield," thus ushering in a change of philosophy at the club that traditionally builds its attacking play around wingers.
Thinking back to Moyes' most resilient Everton teams, he rarely used traditional wingers on both sides of the pitch. Instead, he deployed versatile types—Steven Pienaar, Tim Cahill and Leon Osman—who interchanged depending on the situation.
While Neville confirms Mata is "obviously a fantastic football player," his reservations are undoubtedly worth considering.
United's most potent need right now is the addition of central midfield reinforcements, not the acquisition of a No. 10 who takes up similar positions to both Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney.
What Mata's signing would do—perhaps vitally for United, who are set to miss out on next season's Champions League—is help attract other star names to the club.
Neville outlined talent who he believes would fit into the Red Devils' ethos, but these are names who are unlikely to be available until the summer—if at all. As noted in Sky Sports' report:
If you took Paul Pogba, Marco Reus, Luke Shaw and Arturo Vidal - they would fit into Manchester United's philosophy.
Lucas Moura would and Ilkay Gundogan and Julian Draxler would. They are young players who have still not reached their full potential and have the potential to go on to be world-class players.
The reported bid for Mata has driven social media into overdrive, as many fans wonder whether the link is to be believed, or whether it will fall through like so many before.
Many are following Neville's train of thought and wondering whether Mata is needed at Old Trafford, as summarised by Bleacher Report UK guest columnist Stan Collymore:
With time running out during the current transfer window and United currently lingering in seventh, there's no doubt the signing of Mata has the potential to rejuvenate the club.
A change of formation at this stage in the season wouldn't be a bad thing. Aside from Adnan Januzaj, United's wingers have rarely been on form this campaign.
If Moyes wishes to stamp his United side with a personal touch and push the team away from Sir Alex Ferguson's formula, the signing would make sense.
Rooney's future remains in the spotlight, noted by Daniel Taylor of The Observer, suggesting a deal for Mata may be completed with the summer in mind. Should Rooney leave, Mata's presence would stop supporters surrendering to mass panic.
There's no doubt United's squad looks more attractive with the 25-year-old's name added. Moyes will need to work extremely hard if he is to land the former Valencia star, but now that United have completed both of their Premier League matches against Chelsea, Jose Mourinho wouldn't be foolish to let Mata leave.
United would surely feel the impact, and indeed, so would Chelsea's title rivals.