Rumors would suggest we've been in the market for more width and a creative midfielder all summer, and AVB himself has even noted that as an area he'd like to see us address. If the interwebs are to be believed, Valencia has confirmed to the Spanish press that Juan Mata will be making his way to London this week. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to take a closer look at the player in question.
Unlike Luka Modric or Javier Pastore, Juan Mata provides an exceptional amount of versatility. While he's stronger with his left foot than he is with his right, he's comfortable using both. He actually started out playing regularly as a right winger with Valencia due to the presence of David Silva. He played well enough there to get his first call up to the Spanish national team for the 2009 Confederations Cup. When Silva played more centrally in the 2009/2010 season, Mata moved to his more natural left side to great effect. He made the Spanish roster for the World Cup that summer, making one appearance for the eventual champions in the group stage.
Following the World Cup, both David Silva and David Villa departed for greener pastures, leaving Mata as probably the best player on the Valencia roster at the age of 22. He played in a freer role, able to drift to both wings while also playing quite a bit as a traditional number ten. He responded well, scoring 8 goals and assisting on 12 more to help Valencia gain the third automatic Champions League place from La Liga. Valencia still likely need to sell, however, as the TV deal in La Liga does not provide them anything close to the money even teams like Everton receive in the Premier League.Mata turned 23 this past April, so signing him to a 5 year deal now should mean we either get another contract out of him or have the ability to sell him later while he's still got a fair amount of value to other clubs. He is fairly small, standing 5'7" and weighing less than 150 lbs. He makes up for that with decent speed, great balance, a Ramires-like work rate, and pretty good change of direction skills. He's fantastic with the ball at his feet and makes very difficult passes look easy. Combine that with some decent finishing ability and fairly solid crossing and you end up with a pretty good overall blend of skills for a guy playing the roles he does.
I've got a few videos for you today. The first is a pretty typical highlight reel so you can see some of the things that really stand out about him:
The second will be highlights of Mata in the U21 tournament this summer against the England squad. This one looks specifically at all his touches throughout the game:
The third will be another game specific look, this time against a very good Real Madrid team:
This one is his touches against Villareal:
And finally, this is a single highlight from training that is just absolutely nuts:
That's an awful lot of video, but one thing that should stand out is how many different places on the pitch Mata can play and play well. That versatility is the type of thing that makes me prefer a guy like Mata or Hazard to guys like Modric or Meirales who aren't quite as versatile. He'd be a younger better version of Yossi Benayoun, which would be pretty nice to have if we end up shipping Benayoun to Spurs before the end of the month.
Mata would not qualify as homegrown and he'd be our first signing this summer over the age of 21, so he'd slot into the 17th and final such spot on the roster which was opened by the sale of Yuri Zhirkov. If we do end up adding him in the next several days, it would mean any pursuit of Luka Modric or Meirales will likely come at the expense of someone else on the roster who isn't homegrown. That might be a little more reason to pay attention to these talks of an Alex sale, as if Rajkovic gets his work permit it would be a sensible move from an area of real depth.
While Mata wasn't my first choice, he's very similar to players like Mario Gotze or Eden Hazard who I really liked and wanted to add. He's also probably the most available of the three which is something that needs to be taken into consideration. He's actually probably a bit better than either right now, although at 23 he's a few years older as well. He's also very appealing in that Arsenal, Liverpool, and Spurs have all tried to get him this summer and would likely have very upset fanbases if we snatched him away at the last second. Adding Mata would certainly strengthen this team in a number of areas, and it would give Villas-Boas the ability to make more in game tactical adjustments without having to make substitutions to do so. With the FA limiting roster size now, that type of player is going to become more important than ever.
I'm exited to see us potentially adding Mata, definitely more so than I would be for Luka Modric. Feel free to leave your thoughts on Mata below...I'd be interested to hear what everyone else thinks of him.