Juan Mata is powerful. The diminutive Spaniard has some serious clout when you consider that the mere idea of his transfer was able to shake me from my self-imposed hiatus and bring me back to the keyboard. He means something to me, after all. Throughout the duration of his Chelsea career, Juan has been a highlight reel of feel-good moments. That magical left foot striking fear in the hearts of defenders, that vision to pick out a pass, the unrelenting close control that mimics a ball on a string. He's by all accounts affable, intelligent, and cultured. You'd just as easily find him lounging around London on the weekend with a book at a chai latte than you would posted-up at Cobham honing his craft. The perception of the man and the reality are so even that it's hard to criticize a player who's never pretended to be anything but an attacking talisman.
This is what makes the idea of Juan heading to Manchester United so troubling. It's not that we're losing a world-class Spanish International who's served as the lynchpin for two successive seasons of European triumph. It's that we're throwing in the towel on Juan's career without giving him the opportunity to show us what Mata under Mourinho could look like. Despite what you might read today, there have yet to be any confirmed reports that Juan has asked for an exit from Chelsea. To date, I cannot recall a single interview with the player indicating any sort of hostility toward Chelsea executives, the manager, or the Stamford Bridge faithful. He's been a loyal servant during his tenure, and despite finding himself banished to the substitutes bench more times this season than in years past, he has yet to verbally call into question Mourinho's methods.
So why should Chelsea, therefore, feel any sort of impetus to sell Mata? He's under contract for several more seasons, he's not exactly on the highest of wages, we're active in three separate cup competitions this term, and we've recently made more room for him in the rotation with the sale of Kevin De Bruyne. What would convince Chelsea that letting him leave to another English club would be justified. The short answer is in the finances involved. £40 million represents a significant amount of cash for a one-way player. It also presents the very real likelihood that Chelsea's rebuilding project under Mourinho will continue this month, as the capital collected on the sale of Juan would more than likely be used to strengthen the squad. Still, that logic doesn't resonate with me. I can't get behind this deal with money as the only motivator. I need more.
To date, no official confirmations or denials have been reported by either Chelsea or Manchester United. Which is odd when you revisit the Summer of 2013, a time when Chelsea openly chased Wayne Rooney and went to war with the Manchester United PR Department, who leaked stories that Juan Mata was a part of the negotiations. Chelsea, at that time, came outright and denied any player swaps insisting that any probable deal for Rooney would be a cash-only transaction. Fast-forward to today and both camps are remaining steadfastly reticent. Neither party appears keen to step to the forefront and make a verbal declaration in either direction. Tonight's United match presents a likely opportunity for David Moyes to be the first to comment. Tomorrow offers Jose Mourinho a chance at the rebuttal with his pre-Stoke press conference, likely to be a theater of sorts.
Again, none of this does anything to still my aching heart. To understand my appreciation for Juan is not hard. He's a player that arrived at the beginning of our modern revolution and epitomized the style and standard of attacking football we've come to embrace. He was the first in a long-line of attacking midfielders who have since arrived in London, the archetype who set England alight in his first season. He was the sole source of creative influence in a dire Chelsea squad that danced through Munich, the individual bright spot in a season blighted by the presence of Rafa Benitez. He's validated his reputation by putting in timeless, sterling performances in some of the biggest matches we've endured over the last two campaigns. None of these statements mind you, are my own. These are the collective and assorted thoughts of every Chelsea fan. We all know what Juan means to us, the fans. Which makes this whole sordid affair so irritating.
I use the term sordid because, frankly, the idea of selling Juan Mata to anyone, nevermind Manchester United feels altogether dirty. Perhaps I could find peace with this deal if Juan was heading to a club on the continent, perhaps. But United? No. There's nothing about this that I can rationalize as justified, from my perspective as a fan. As an advocate of Juan Mata, moving to United certainly makes a lot of sense. He'd continue to be in England, he's still at a world-class club, he'd be the centerpiece of an offense that would require nothing in the way of defensive effort, and he'd start 80% of the matches on offer. Regular minutes, an increased profile ahead of the World Cup, an opportunity to showcase his abilities to the world once more. Yes, I understand. But is that really what Juan wants? Can we be certain that Mata wants to leave, despite the latest reports which are indicating that he asked for a transfer?
Until someone official comes to the forefront and offers a declaration, I can't believe anything that's been reported. Did Mata miss training this morning? Yes. Does that mean he's 'preparing for a medical', or 'told his friends and family he's off to United', or 'asked for a transfer?'. Yes, or no, or maybe, or something like that. It could be that he asked for a day to sort this mess out, or that indeed he's preparing to be moved on, or maybe he had some unpaid child support he needed to catch up on. How are we really supposed to know? The answer is, we aren't, and that's what makes this month so thoroughly frustrating. In the era of micro-news feeds, real-time updates, and page views, every outlet is conjuring stories and speculation to drive traffic. Nevermind the journalistic integrity of reporting a story, these days it seems it's a hell of a lot easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. A retraction on an article that has 100,000 views is never as important as the source material itself, or so they feel.
There's the Mourinho factor in here as well. Would Jose be wise to sever ties with Mata at this stage in the season?Probably not. But far be it for me to judge the man, as he's made the argument that Juan needs to play every match obsolete. Is his silence some sort of negotiating gambit, designed to unsettle United? Maybe. Was Mata's absence from training a ploy by Jose to get the rumor-machine speculating? Perhaps. Again, we don't know anything at this point other than the following:
Something might happen with Juan Mata. We don't know. Nothing has been confirmed by any official sources.
However this situation shakes out, it will be interesting to gauge the fan reaction. By almost every measure, there is a consensus among Chelsea supporters that they would rather keep Juan than risk losing him. There's a convinced minority (myself included) who believe the likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar are not long for the future at Chelsea. Anyone delusional to assume that either of those two won't head to Real Madrid, PSG, or Barcelona in three years time is fooling themselves. But with Juan, the story could have been so different. Here's a player who completed his medical at Chelsea, and then flew back to Valencia to bid farewell to the fans. He returned to face Valencia in the Champions League in his first season at Chelsea and was serenaded with a standing ovation for his efforts. Here's a lad that by all accounts genuinely gets the significance of Chelsea Football Club. He understands the history, the legends that pre-date him, and just how passionate a fan base we are. He could have been the future, the foundation, a leader, a captain, a legend. He would have been happy to stay for seasons on end, playing in Blue. Loyalty, though not an often used word in the realm of football, is second nature for Juan. He would have stayed, and more than likely should have should have.
That Chelsea are considering ending their relationship with Mata speaks volumes about the financial ramifications of a potential deal. It's a shame that we can't just appreciate the player and the countless memories he's helped to conjure in Blue. It's despicable that we can't find a way to keep him in the fold. I was at Stamford Bridge for his first match, against Norwich. I remember singing his name as my then fiancé and I walked down the Kings Road. He gave us life, a sense of flair and ingenuity. He waltzed into the picture an unknown to so many, and could potentially leave as one of the best to wear the Blue armor. It may never make sense in my head, and I might not be able to rationalize the motivation behind his departure, but I'm resigned to accept the reality of this modern financially-driven world.
If you leave Juan, just know that you'll always be remembered as one of the best.
- Chelsea shouldn't rule out selling to domestic rivals, as long as it's best for Chelsea
- How should Chelsea spend the money they'd make from a Juan Mata transfer?
- Thorgan Hazard requests contract termination with Zulte Waregem
- Chelsea finally look like true contenders again
- Mind over Mata: Why we'll be ok if Chelsea sell (but not to Manchester United)