Juan Mata’s glamorous Man Utd transfer that failed to deliver on promise for “success”


Much was expected of Juan Mata after moving from Chelsea to Manchester United in January 2014, but as he is left on the periphery at Old Trafford, the £37m move simply did not go to plan

Juan Mata arrived at Man Utd's Carrington training complex by helicopter to undergo his medical
Juan Mata arrived at Man Utd’s Carrington training complex by helicopter to undergo his medical

If only Juan Mata ‘s Manchester United career was as extravagant as his arrival in Manchester, there is no telling what the club could have achieved.

There were more than just a few eyebrows raised when Man United, then managed by David Moyes, swooped to seal a £37.1million deal for Mata from rivals Chelsea in January 2014. At 25, he arguably had his best years ahead of him and perhaps it was only Jose Mourinho who couldn’t recognise his value.

The playmaker had played a crucial role in his first two seasons at the club, but Mourinho’s return to west London in 2013 saw Oscar prioritised ahead of the diminutive midfielder. Chelsea fans were unhappy with his treatment by the Portuguese boss, but even more so when the talented playmaker was allowed to leave for Old Trafford. To mark the earth-shattering nature of such a high-profile transfer between two Premier League giants, United quite literally swept Mata off his feet in a luxury chopper, which arrived on the green grass at Carrington.

“The time has come for a new challenge,” Mata said upon signing a four-and-a-half-year deal. “I am excited at the chance I have to be part of the next phase in the club’s history.” He added: “Chelsea is a top club and I have many friends there but you cannot turn down the chance to join Manchester United. I look forward to helping the manager and the team be successful in the coming years.”

Make no mistake, this was a statement signing for Moyes, who had failed to lure both Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas to Old Trafford. But capturing a player of Mata’s calibre proved he could attract top talents. After all, it was only 18 months prior to his move that Mata had played a key role in Chelsea’s Champions League triumph. United fans would have watched on in envy as Mata curled in the corner for Didier Drogba to head home the all-important equaliser in Munich.

So they could be forgiven for expecting the Spaniard to deliver moments of magic like that in the red shirt in the future. Six goals in his opening 15 games suggested the club had pulled off a shrewd piece of business, whilst simultaneously weakening their rivals, but Moyes’ sacking just three months into his United stint change changed his fortunes.






Juan Mata is entering the final months of his Man Utd deal with no renewal on the horizon

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Even though he featured in 33 Premier League games in Louis van Gaal ‘s first season Mata’s role was somewhat reduced due to the Dutchman’s preference for Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Angel Di Maria up front. But after Di Maria’s spell in the Premier League was brought to a premature end, the Spaniard played his way back into favour.

Still, there was no consistent run of goals or assists like he had produced at Chelsea. And when he did conjure up a moment of magic, chiefly his incredible bicycle kick against Liverpool at Anfield, it was often too far between for him to gain proper momentum. Meanwhile, his former club clinched their Premier League crown in 2014-15 under Mourinho, which must have hurt Mata deep down. He claimed his first trophy with the club in 2015-16 with the FA Cup after scoring against Crystal Palace at Wembley, but was not on the pitch when the Red Devils found the winner in extra time.

And then came Mourinho again in July 2016. For a player who had appeared in every game in the previous season, Mata must have feared for his future under the Portuguese again. Whatever Mourinho’s grudge was appeared to have eroded over the years, but he was never going to be his creator-in-chief. In what should have been his peak years, he found himself warming the bench and used predominantly in a backup role.

The club opted to trigger an initial extension of his contract in January 2018, which felt like a move to protect their own financial interests. Even when Mata earned a new two-year deal 18 months later, he was on the fringes under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Injuries have played their part in his plight, but no one could blame Mata for lacking the zip and zest he used to deliver given his lack of playing time.

Now, on his 34th birthday, the veteran midfielder is counting down the days before he leaves Old Trafford for the final time. Perhaps a return to Spanish football lies ahead for a player who struggles to get in the squad and has just three substitute appearances to his name this season. Maybe looking across to west London, there will be some tinges of regret for Mata.

When the day that he leaves for the final time comes along, he will receive a fond farewell by United fans. But it will also include the shared knowledge and regret that, considering the initial buzz that came with his arrival, two trophies is a deeply disappointing return from their eight years spent together.

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