In the upcoming transfer window, Ten Hag will need to acquire a number of players, but if Manchester United can keep hold of one, he could save some money.
That a bright and illustrious career, punctuated by innumerable flashes of brilliance, appears to be coming to a close with such a whimper is a huge shame. At least in the case of Manchester United.
Juan Mata has amassed an impressive collection of championship trophies throughout his career, including those from the World Cup, European Championship, Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup, Europa League, and Copa del Rey. When he moved to the Premier League with Chelsea, he was incredible, and he carried on that magic for a while at Old Trafford, he was considered one of the finest players in the history of the national team.
In spite of the fact that he spent the last eight years of his career with United, the vast bulk of it is forgotten, which is absurd. Remember your Mata highlights from the past? The only one that really stands out is his spectacular overhead kick against Liverpool.
Despite scoring 51 goals and assisting on 47 others, there aren’t any standout moments in his career, which can be attributed to the fact that the squad has never been constructed entirely around him. Even though he possesses all of the necessary abilities, he has never been elevated to the position of major character.
When Manchester United managed to lure Mata away from Chelsea, where he’d been absolutely magnificent in the No.10 role for the previous two-and-a-half seasons, it was a true and shocking coup. In fact, despite playing over 150 more games at United, he only managed to accrue eight more goal contributions than he did during his time at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League.
To illustrate how efficient he was as an attacking midfielder, despite the fact that he was rarely used in that role at United. For whatever reason, Mata was often shifted to the sides, where his skills were no longer relevant, in order to make room for someone else. This was true whether it was Wayne Rooney, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, or a slew of other more defensive-minded midfielders.
At the very least, he was on the field, as he hasn’t gotten a single kick in the last two seasons. In the previous campaign, he was only given 861 minutes, and this campaign, he has been given even fewer minutes, only 311. Mata may be getting on in years, having recently turned 34, but the fact that he is receiving such insufficient playing time is absolutely perplexing. It’s even more impressive when you realize how totally terrible United have been this season and how desperately they have missed having a guy with his particular skill set.
United had been devoid of a creative spark, originality, ingenuity, and even a basic competency in passing for the entirety of the season despite the fact that Mata was sitting on the bench twiddling his thumbs – if he was even that fortunate. Mata is still more than capable of performing at the highest level, as evidenced by United’s 3-0 victory over Brentford on Monday, which was the best performance of Ralf Rangnick’s United tenure to date.
Despite starting his first league match of the season against the visiting Bees, he immediately made United appear more like a coherent unit with him on the pitch and, more importantly, with him playing centrally. The ball was being passed about fast, fascinating passes were being played, assaults were being sewn together rather than unraveling, and Cristiano Ronaldo appeared to be energised by the presence of a player who was on the same wavelength as him alongside him on the pitch. Old Trafford was once again the scene of some Mata magic, but tragically, it will almost definitely be the last time the Spaniard performs there.
Mata’s contract will expire at the end of the season, and his tearful farewell on Monday suggests that a one-year extension will not be forthcoming. It’s a shame since he couldn’t be more well-suited to the type of player Erik ten Hag will want to bring to the sideline.
It is imperative that the midfield of Manchester United be completely overhauled in order for its new manager to have the type of player profile necessary to make his entertaining brand of offensive football succeed. However, if Mata were to stay, it would mean that one less signing would be required, at least in the short term.
To suggest that Mata can start every match would be an understatement; he has never been a player who relied on his speed or any other physical trait; rather, his game has always been about a spectacular level of talent, poise, and technical ability. There’s no denying that if he stays, he’d be a valuable member of the Ten Hag squad.
There are valid arguments to be made that a clearout is required in order for the Dutchman to establish his own identity in the group, but Mata is not and has never been a disruptive influence, despite the fact that his lack of playing time must have been infuriating. The respect he commands, combined with his years of experience, would have a favorable impact on any dressing room he walked into.
As he will undoubtedly discover next season when he returns to Spain and embarks on an inevitable career resurrection, Mata still possesses the necessary attributes to make an impact, and it will be to United’s detriment if they allow him to demonstrate those skills elsewhere.