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Juan Mata: Still a Chelsea hero

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

All throughout the game against Manchester United last Saturday, it felt strange to me. Juan Mata, arguably one of the best players to play down the King's Road, a fans' favourite and a true gent turning up to play at Stamford Bridge in red; it just didn't sit right.

In a modern day game where players earn mega bucks, any appreciation or interaction with the fans becomes noticed. Juan was class on the pitch; twice a winner of the club's Player of the Season, once a Players' Player of the Season, a Champions League, Europa League and an FA Cup winner, but it was the man himself that Chelsea fans adored. Always one to clap the fans at the end of an away game, one to stop and take a photograph with a fan down a busy London high street and numerous days where he would meet and greet the fans at Stamford Bridge.

He's dearly missed by most at Chelsea. The type of player I admire in a way, not hungry for fame, but appreciative to be to be living the life he is. A quiet man, studying his second degree whilst combining his Chelsea career, excited to explore the world's best city, London. You'd often see Instagram posts of Juan and his friends visiting museums and seeing London's attractions rather than pictures of him at the front of the paper stumbling out of nightclubs.

When I cast my mind back to the start of the 2013/14 season, I was always worried about Mata. He was clearly not favoured by Mourinho who opted for the choice of Oscar, who arguably was the more all-rounded player of the two, something we all know Mourinho is a fan of. As much as I am sick of the term "tracking back", that's what Oscar did - he helped his defence when his team were on the back foot, something that didn't come natural to Mata.

Time passed and Mata still wasn't getting regular playing time. The final straw came against Southampton away on New Year's Day, when Mata was taken off in the 53rd minute, and you could see by the way he reacted, the Chelsea - Mata love story was soon to be over. He was later sold to Manchester United for £37.1million.

I remember as a young boy going to Stamford Bridge with my dad and my brother, being mesmerised by the skill of Gianfranco Zola. His touch, skills I've never seen before, and his eye for goal - fantastic for such a small bloke in a then much more physical game. He looked so calm whenever he was on the ball, exactly like Juan Mata. I genuinely believed he would go on to be like our beloved Italian. A combination of a great personality and great ability saw easy comparisons of the two. Zola is still regarded as one of Chelsea's greatest ever players and it is sad that the same won't be said about Juan.

As much as it pains me to say, the one criticism that I have of Mourinho is the selling of my favourite player. It's hard to explain, but he was just... Chelsea. He got it, he understood the fans and he understood the club. There were moments on the pitch that we will never forget. The corner he took, to be met by the head of Didier Drogba in Munich, the corner he took to be met by the head of Ivanovic in ‘Dam, scoring on his debut against Norwich, the celebrations against Spurs at White Hart Lane and United at Old Trafford.

Over a year on now, and I still love him as much as I did when he was in blue. I wish all the luck he can get in his career. A top bloke, a top player and one who was born to play at Stamford Bridge; unfortunately though, that wasn't to be.

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