Analysing Juan Mata’s Chelsea departure

Chelsea Football Club

On the face of it, selling twice Chelsea Player of the Year Juan Mata seems unthinkable. But in little over three days, what was merely speculation grew into serious debate and now we have confirmation of the £37.1 million transfer of Juan Mata to Manchester United.

The move seems to defy logic. The player must have done a simple cost-benefit analysis and concluded, somehow, it was wise to swap a championship contender for a team languishing in seventh place and 14 points off the top. For sure, one can conclude that the very obvious positive of making the move to Manchester for Juan Mata is the increase in game-time. Where he once was a dead cert to be in every starting line-up under Di Matteo and Benitez, Mourinho’s preference for building the team around his philosophy — as opposed to the other managers just trying to build off Mata’s form at that time — has meant the 25-year-old has been limited to a place on the bench. The player, who recorded 12 goals and 17 assists last season, has only two assists to his name this campaign.

It is a staggering fall of the man who was once the lynch-pin of Chelsea. Let us not forget the incredible goals he scored for Chelsea against Manchester United. Let us not forget it was his corner that allowed Drogba to head the equaliser in the victorious 2012 Champions League Final. It has been constantly up and up and up for Juan Mata since he scored on his debut against Norwich.

So why the sudden, drastic change?

The footballing reasons why Mata is not a starter for Chelsea is very clear. Mourinho favours players who track back and run and run and run for the team. Anyone watching the Chelsea matches this season cannot deny the likes of Hazard, Oscar or Willian a starting spot, for they have developed into fantastic tacklers, full of energy and are impressively quick. We have all been impressed this campaign by the sudden changes of pace from Hazard and his ability to score goals. Mata is a much more patient man who goes for the assist than the goal. Perhaps the lack of a main striker, who could feed off his assists, is another reason for his departure and why he is being undervalued by Mourinho.

But a player opting to transfer clubs should not be base his judgement solely on footballing reasons. Juan Mata, judging by his Instagram posts and Tweets, loved life in London. You could also argue that, even if he was not getting much match-time, times may change if the likes of Hazard gets an injury. Likewise, despite a lack of matches, surely learning from Mourinho on the training ground is better than learning how to lose from David Moyes? You have to argue which club is heading more in the right direction, too.

You have to compare and contrast the situation with others of the like. Fernando Torres, for one, seems quite content to not play every match but pick up the pay packet, the trophies and, albeit sparingly, help out his team. This move, presumably stimulated by Mata’s desire to leave, shows an unwelcome selfish side to the player that perhaps we did not fully understand.

We all know how much Juan Mata values playing. Fans and media alike were telling Mata to slow down after accumulating a record number of matches played for Chelsea, not forgetting his participation in international events like the European Championships and the Olympics for Spain. The man dismissed he was tired, much preferring to play. It is a pity now that it is his personal ambitions that have brought about this move.

Whilst Mata should not have looked at this move purely for footballing reasons, so Chelsea fans cannot — and must not — look at this departure from the emotional point-of-view either. Financially, £37 million for a player who is, truth be told, likely to warm the bench a bit more for the rest of the campaign (and so his value further decreases in the summer) is an astute business move, particularly as Chelsea reported heavy losses in the last announcement. One may also argue it brings short-term joys to Chelsea, who no longer have to play Manchester United this season, and so providing help to this team, who cannot be regarded as a rival this season, may better Manchester United’s chances of beating one of Chelsea’s main rivals. However, when Manchester United are back to full strength next season, you do wonder if this move will come back to haunt Chelsea.

Maybe there is more method to this than what meets the eye. Chelsea could have engineered a first refusal option on Wayne Rooney, for example. Maybe, behind-the-scenes, there are serious negotiations with the likes of Falcao, and so money must be generated and Mata does command a large sum.

This move does not, at present, make much sense. For Chelsea, they are waving goodbye to a fine player. For Manchester United, they are panic-buying and parting for £37 million for a player who may have rusted from his time on the bench. For the player, he is putting game-time ahead of all other factors which contribute to his footballing happiness, such as his love for London and him having already established key friendships in Torres and Azpilicueta.

This is no normal exit. Rarely has the official Chelsea twitter feed composed more than one Tweet on a player leaving, making special note to thank Juan Mata for his services. Fernando Torres posts on Instagram that he is missing “his friend” already. Juan Mata himself felt it necessary to write a heart-felt and deeply poignant 1,023-word letter, thanking the Chelsea fans for their support.

Chelsea fans, rightly so, may be upset. It does seem hard to comprehend, based on what limited information we have been given. But, in Chelsea, we have wise businessmen. In Mourinho, we have an inspirational leader and a fine strategic tactician. This move will work out. Things always do.