It took a few days but Juan Mata’s transfer from Chelsea to Manchester United was finally confirmed on Saturday night after the midfielder had flown in via helicopter to sign on the dotted line at Carrington. Chelsea meanwhile snapped up Egyptian Mohamed Salah from FC Basel and began to get used to life without their former Spanish star.
The Blues’ comfortable victory against Stoke on Sunday went someway to proving that life without Mata won’t be too strenuous, particularly as Oscar, who has been keeping Mata out of the side, netted the winner. But while Stamford Bridge might not directly feel the effects of Mata’s exit, letting the Spaniard go might not have been the wisest idea for José Mourinho and Chelsea, due to what the transfer could do to Manchester United.
Obviously, selling a player as good as Juan Mata to a domestic club isn’t the cleverest of ideas, especially when you consider that he narrowly lost out to Gareth Bale in last season’s PFA Player of the Year award. Six months ago, such a move would have been unthinkable, but after half a season of not being given a clear run in the side, things (clearly) change. But selling a player of Mata’s quality to a team like Manchester United, well that’s just madness isn’t it? Well, José Mourinho at least doesn’t think so.
Many people have questioned Chelsea’s motives with this transfer. Manchester United are in trouble, serious trouble. They’re in a rut, and desperately low on confidence, they’ve slipped out of the title race and are in danger of slipping a dangerously uncomfortable distance from the top four. Chelsea, many will argue, have thrown them a life raft. As David Moyes continued to stress over the summer, it’s hard to find the right players for your team when so few are available. The idea that United could land themselves a player of Juan Mata’s quality in January would usually be unimaginable. And given United’s current predicament, it is players of Mata’s quality that they desperately need, and it’s crazy to think that rivals Chelsea have been the ones to supply them.
Manchester United are in severe danger of missing out on a Champions League place and if they do, given the competitiveness of the Premier League nowadays, they might find it extremely hard to get back in. Champions League football is a huge attraction to top players and without it, teams struggle to attract the best players. Many of United’s players look second rate with the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson and a lot needs to change in the next few years, so it’s imperative that United get into the Champions League in order to secure a smooth transition. All Chelsea have done by selling them Mata is making their job easier.
Selling to a domestic rival has never worked in the selling clubs’ favour. Just ask Arsenal. Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure and Ashley Cole have all gone on to win the Premier League since leaving Arsenal, while the Gunners have infamously gone on a 9 year trophy-barren run. There’s simply no justification for making the teams around you stronger.
But does Mourinho see United as his rival anymore? This deal would suggest that he doesn’t. The fact that he’s sold a world class player to a team such as Manchester United when the club is not short of cash, nor have United tabled an offer that Chelsea simply couldn’t refuse, suggests that Chelsea consider United to be well and truly out of the title race. And that, to everyone except perhaps that most hardcore of United fans, is acceptable.
But for me, if that is his reason for selling to Manchester United, it’s an incredibly short sighted one. Even if United won’t be challenging Chelsea this season, the chances are they will at some point in the future. In the Red Devil’s hour of need, the signing of a big name like Mata could be enough to both bring the confidence of the United squad, much in the way that the signing of Mesut Özil breathed new life and confidence into Arsenal, but it may also lead to other world class players seeing Manchester United as a reasonable destination.
Currently, Manchester United is a less attractive option for the world’s best players than it has been previously. There’s no telling how long the manager will last – or if he’s in fact good enough for the job, the team is struggling in the league, are out of both domestic cups and there’s no guarantee of Champions League football next season. But seeing a player as good as Mata arrive might just be the motivation they need to take the risk and join.
If Juan Mata’s arrival results in either of those two outcomes (United gaining confidence, or an influx of players) then Chelsea must acknowledge that they’ve made a big mistake. This is the first time in a long time that Manchester United are at risk of not being a title challenging team, and Chelsea have offered them a helping hand. Mata alone isn’t enough to fix of all Manchester United’s problems but the after effects of his arrival just might be and that’s what Chelsea should’ve taken into consideration. Maybe they did, and subsequently decided that the extra £7-10 million they would get from United in particular due to their desperation to bring in good players was worth taking the risk.
Either way, it’s a risk Chelsea have taken which could leave them with egg on their face if United bounce back from the brink, regardless of how well Chelsea might do without Juan Mata, there’s nothing worse than strengthening your rivals, especially when there must have been the chance to sell or loan him abroad. But if it pays off for Mourinho, and United are indeed unable to get out of their rut, I’m sure the self-proclaimed ‘happy one’ will be an even happier one.