A strange atmosphere enveloped the United faithful following the club’s exit from the league cup in a farcical penalty shootout defeat to Sunderland. Despite the loss, which most would accept was probably deserved on the evidence of the two legs, a buoyant mood was growing fuelled by the tantalising prospect of the club capturing a real world-class talent. The rumour mill was in full-flow and reports that United were close to obtaining the services of Juan Mata were flying around with such substance that even the most cynical were beginning to believe. A few days on, and Manchester United have completed a £37.1 million deal for the Spaniard that has in many ways defied logic and immeasurably lifted the club.
The sheer joy imparted by the transfer entails a number of facets. Trailing miserably in the league and with the Champions League the only remaining opportunity of silverware, the club was on its knees. But an examination of the fan’s mood at present paints a different picture. It is important not to get carried away in the current hysteria, a lot of hard work remains between now and May. However, following calls from all corners, more out of hope than expectation that additions were needed, the capture in January of a player of Mata’s calibre is far beyond what most even dreamed of.
Mourinho’s reservations aside for one moment, this is a world-class talent, both on and off the pitch. Add that to the cheap but, ultimately, immensely satisfying way in which Juan Mata’s name lends itself so effortlessly to puns and contortion, and such is the mood that one could be forgiven for thinking that the entirety of United’s following had won the lottery over the past few days.
The excitement, however, is surely justified. The signing signals a somewhat uncharacteristic departure from the club’s traditional transfer policy. The captures of Van Persie and Berbatov aside, United have traditionally preferred to invest more in youthful potential than ready made class acts.
That is not to say that United have never spent big on players approaching their prime, but in the past the likes of Cantona have been bought to supplement and support a plethora of experience and potential. The acquisition of Mata is different in the sense that the Spaniard is believed to be the first step in a widespread overhaul which will materialise before the start of next season. With the club so desperate to make a positive, authoritative statement, Mata’s arrival may prove invaluable. Make no mistake; this Juan could prove the Matalyst for an exciting new era at Old Trafford (sorry, be assured the puns stop there).
Mata becomes the 7th World Cup winner and the 4th Spaniard after Felipe Ricardo, Gerard Pique and David de Gea to join United’s ranks. The diminutive playmaker will provide a much needed creative spark to United’s midfield and relieve a lot of the unfortunate pressure currently shouldered by Januzaj, who evidenced both his potential brilliance and current immaturities in equal measure against Sunderland.
The arrival of the Red Devil’s new No.8 will also have provided a much needed injection of enthusiasm and excitement to the rest of the playing staff. Ferguson would constantly re-shape his squads to mitigate the risk of the hunger and desire stagnating, and it is hoped that Moyes’ capture of the former Chelsea man will have a similar impact.
Player of the season in both of his full campaigns at Stamford Bridge and statistics the envy of most midfielders in world football suggest that Mata will prove quite a coup for the Red Devils. Reservations regarding the preferred playing position aside, the Spaniard is an exciting and attacking threat very much in line with United’s values. It appears that Mata and United will prove a good match and the midfielder had this to say on his arrival:
“Coming here is a great moment for me. I feel very happy to be here, to have the chance to play in a massive club like this”.
“Obviously the last six months have been difficult at Chelsea but now I’m happy to come here and to win as many trophies as I can. I’m sure this will be a great, great period for me”.
“The history of the club, the players are top players in the squad, the welcome was unbelievable – I came here by helicopter and I have to say everyone was amazing, the players, the manager, the fans has been unbelievable”.
“I’m really grateful and the only thing I want to do is just play, to try my best for the team, and to get this confidence back”.
“Man United is a massive club. In England it is the club with the most fans around the world. It is a big challenge for me. But I think everything is going to be fine, with the players that are going to come in the summer”.
“The team is really good. This season they had some unlucky moments they didn’t deserve”.
The Spaniard’s arrival at Old Trafford, then, has seemingly brought about a welcome boost to all associated with the club and to the player himself. This boost is only intensified by the fact that for a number of reasons the transfer seemed an unlikely one.
Chelsea’s willingness to sanction the deal is surprising, particularly in light of the club’s well documented pursuit of Wayne Rooney over the summer which certainly soured relations between the clubs. It is perhaps for that reason that much of the transfer was conducted in an ‘at arms-length’ manner through intermediaries. Furthermore, whilst United are no real threat to Chelsea this season, the long-term view and the catalyst that the transfer could prove to be may leave the Blues ruing their decision. That said, the amount of money involved and the obvious quality of Oscar, Hazard and even the blossoming Piazon on loan at Vitesse Arnhem, may demonstrate why in eventuality the deal may be one where both parties benefit.
From the Red’s perspective it is a signing brimming with optimism and may well be an indication of Moyes’ vision for a new “exciting” United. However, the question of where Mata fits within the Old Trafford setup is an interesting one. It may finally signal a move away from the traditional wide 4-4-2 formation so entrenched in the club’s ideology.
It is most likely now that United will look to adopt either a 4-2-3-1 in the mould of Arsenal or a 4-2-2-2 akin to that played at Manchester City with a fluid front four of Januzaj, Rooney, Mata and Van Persie a mouth-watering prospect.
Both these systems implore an emphasis on attacking full-backs to provide the width, and are reliant on controlled possession and disciplined, dynamic central midfielders who are often found to be the deepest players on the field, (barring the centre backs) and are required to cover a lot of ground.
In this sense, caution is advised. A new player of Mata’s calibre is an undoubted lift but adapting to a new system takes time. Moreover, United are currently devoid of the power, pace and dynamism of a Yaya Toure and Fernandinho or even the agile subtlety of a Wilshere or Ramsey in the centre of the park, both of which facilitate their respective systems so effectively.
Nevertheless, with talented strikers and an exciting crop of modern inside forwards who do their best work more centrally now at the club, a change of system is the best option. Whilst Rooney will undoubtedly occupy the No.10 role that Mata, Januzaj and Kagawa ultimately crave, there is no reason to suggest that a fluid combination of the above will not provide a potent attacking threat moving forwards. When asked about his role and Wayne Rooney, Mata had this to say:
“For me he is one of the best players in the history of this country”.
“I’ll try to connect with him as much as I can”.
“He can score, assist and come to the midfield to move the ball. I will try to find the gaps between the rival defences because I was used to doing this. This is my way of playing”.
Exciting times, then, and it would appear that the clear, coherent direction of Moyes’ United that so many were craving is beginning to take shape. Through the acquisition of the diminutive playmaker the manager has sent out a real statement of intent and an authoritative stamp on the team which the Scot hopes to re-build over the summer. It is hard to repair the disaster of last summer’s transfer window but the board’s backing of their new manager is a positive step, and Moyes is adamant that there is more to come:
“There’ll be more players like Juan in the future, I’ve no doubt about that”.
United may yet spring another surprise between now and the end of the January transfer window, although much of the business is anticipated to take place during the summer. The hard work on the pitch, then, begins now and United still need drastic improvement if they are to turn things around. In this regard, Mata’s comments and belief are encouraging:
“What I like most about this club is the character. This club fights to the end and comes back from difficult moments”.
It is hoped that these remarks ring in the ears of all associated with Manchester United. The club are still up against it and it will be a tough road ahead in the near future. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure; the capture of Mata is Juan hell of a statement.
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