Mata arrival heralds new dawn for United
David Moyes has identified targets to make team his own, writes Jason Burt
David Moyes has long been an admirer of German football – he once declared he would like to coach in the country – so it is no surprise that he is turning to the Bundesliga in his quest to overhaul his failing Manchester United squad.
He will be given the funds to compete and his scouting missions this month have been about putting in the groundwork with clubs and agents for a summer rebuild. United are acutely aware that they need to spend, and spend significantly, to challenge again even if they drop out of the Champions League places this season.
The club attempted to buy Gareth Bale for £100m last summer, they were interested in Cesc Fabregas, bid for Ander Herrera and Leighton Baines and were offered Mesut özil and Fabio Coentrao. Money is available, even after the £37m club record purchase of Juan Mata and the £27.5m committed to Marouane Fellaini.
Moyes is fishing. He is sounding out the possibility of signing Toni Kroos from Bayern Munich or Marco Reus from Borussia Dortmund, in the knowledge that both players have buy-out clauses and contracts that are running down, and is also interested in Dortmund's Ilkay Gundogan. He does not expect to get all three. On Friday, Moyes attended Borussia Monchengladbach against Bayern Munich. There is interest in midfielder Patrick Herrmann while he also assessed striker Max Kruse and is aware that Bayern defender Dante is unsettled.
It was an unusually high-profile approach for such a high-profile manager, but Moyes has taken the decision that by travelling in person he will be able to, as one source put it, "do the sales job" of persuading his targets to come to United.
Having finally been told by Real Madrid that Coentrao will not be loaned this month United have considered a move for Southampton's Luke Shaw, who they greatly admire, but that is an offer that also might have to wait until the summer when the incomings will also be balanced out by departures.
Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Nani and Javier Hernandez are among the senior players expected to leave with Moyes also determined to lower the average age of the United squad as he makes them more competitive and more his own team.
That process was unsatisfactory in the summer, but the capture of Mata has changed the dynamics. It was a highly unusual transfer and not just because it was a club-record deal for United. It was a deal brokered largely through intermediaries because it was reasoned the move would have immediately collapsed with a direct approach.
United had to ascertain at what price Chelsea would be prepared to sell Mata but were fearful that if they made a formal inquiry it would have been rebuffed – not least because of the hard-line stance they took last summer over Wayne Rooney. Delicate talks have been ongoing for several weeks, with Mata's Chelsea future having been in serious doubt since October, the player having grown frustrated at his lack of first-team opportunities.
At that stage the frontrunners for his signature were Paris St-Germain and tentative talks took place, with indications that the club would make a bid in January. That did not transpire. Instead, United's interest grew as their season began to unravel and it became evident that the unthinkable was possible: Chelsea might be willing to sell to them if the right bid was made. After discussions through those intermediaries a figure of €45m (£37m) appeared to be regarded as acceptable, especially as Chelsea had ruled out loaning the player to Atletico Madrid.
United had just one problem: if their bid was rejected, and subsequently made public, it would not only be embarrassing but another example of them being unable to land a target under Moyes and Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman.
For Jose Mourinho, the bid was at the level which ultimately placed Mata's future in the hands of the board. Mourinho, and the Chelsea hierarchy, are acutely aware of the demands of Financial Fair Play and selling Mata – not a central figure in the club's plans – and signing a cheaper replacement would help bolster his funds to overhaul his strike-force come the summer.
Mourinho's only stipulation – if a bid was made and accepted – was that it was made in time for him to sign a replacement. An informal deadline was placed of last Tuesday, giving Mourinho 10 days to secure a young, quick winger as Mata's replacement. The manager's reasoning was that he would otherwise be left with just Andre Schurrle as an under-study to his first-choices of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian.
Chelsea expected the offer last Monday evening but it did not formally arrive until Wednesday. United had met the asking price, there would be no need for haggling or negotiation, and Chelsea decided to pull Mata out of training. The 25-year-old was then sent home with the expectation that he would not return to Chelsea.
Contingency plans had been made. Mourinho's claim that he was first told that Mata might be leaving on Tuesday morning is disingenuous; as was his further claim that only then did he consider a move for Basle's Mohammmed Salah.
The London club were already aware of the Egyptian's availability, not least during their Champions League matches against the Swiss side this season, which partly explains why the winger's proposed move to Liverpool dragged on. Basle knew there were other suitors.
Chelsea will believe they have done better from the Mata deal but United are cash-rich, talent-poor and needed a marquee signing. Time will tell who has gained the most.