Was it his swashbuckler’s beard? The fact that he is very intelligent and possibly not as easily influenced as other players? Maybe he was too clever for Mourinho? Whatever the reason, the sale of Juan Mata to Manchester United represents a big blunder by Chelsea – one that they could regret.
Why? Mata is a steady player. He’s been outstanding since he came to England, winning the Chelsea Player of the Year award for two seasons. When all was crumbling, Mata was reliable, determined and consistent. But Mourinho clearly didn’t fancy him as part of his team. Strange, since Mourinho has never been a great advocate of wayward talent, preferring the work ethic to the “hit and miss” of a ball-juggler. Mata is just that, a hard working team man. No wonder David Moyes wanted him.
From a financial perspective, £37million for Mata is good business, although some have seen United’s mid-season move as a panic buy. Not at all. Regardless of United’s preference for 4-4-2, which may not suit Mata, they have secured a class player they can rely upon.
There is a school of thought that Mourinho sold Mata to grease the palms of United and possibly snatch Wayne Rooney in the summer, but that doesn’t look possible now that Rooney is getting a new – even more inflated – deal and may become the club’s captain.
Even Chelsea’s rivals are bemused. Arsene Wenger expressed his surprise that Chelsea let him go to a competitor, but hey, the Gunners have been doing that for years – selling their prized assets to Manchester City. And Chelsea’s fans are not happy, either – Mata was a very popular figure at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho likes Hazard and Oscar. He’s building his team around them, but are both reliable and robust enough for the Premier? Can you have both in the team at the same time? Certainly they are very talented and arguably more skilful than Mata, but are they as reliable?
I would question Chelsea’s buying policy around these players. If they suddenly have a number of top-class contenders for the number 10 role, why keep signing players of a similar style? And ask any Chelsea fan – Mata or Matic and I am sure they will plump for the former.
There’s another theory. Chelsea’s most popular players, apart from the Lampard-Terry axis, have been David Luiz and Mata. Both are out of favour. Cynics might say that it’s almost as if Mourinho is saying, “I will tell you who to worship…who the men to like really are.”
Where Chelsea may regret it, however, is next season. This is, after all, a player who will feature in the world champions’ squad for Rio. United may be out of the title race this season, but in 2014-15 they will be back – with a vengeance. Mourinho doesn’t make many mistakes, but you get the feeling that this player will return to bite him on the part of the body on which Mata too often sat in the final weeks of his Stamford Bridge career….