'Nice guy' Mata's time running out at Old Trafford
Published 09/08/2016 | 02:30
Ask anybody who has worked with him who their top three nicest footballers are and Juan Mata will feature on just about every list, and that, perhaps, is the Spaniard's biggest problem in the eyes of Jose Mourinho.
You do not need to know Mata particularly well to realise he is one of the good guys. He makes Spotify playlists of music recommendations from followers on social media, he agrees that footballers are overpaid and, while others tweet pictures of supercars from their pockets, the Spaniard posts snaps of classic convertible VW Beetles.
And yet Mata, a favourite of team-mates, fans, backroom staff, ground staff, and receptionists, had "no relationship" with Mourinho at Chelsea and appears to be on the brink of another parting of the ways with the Portuguese at Manchester United.
The United website ran an article entitled "Eight things we love about our No 8 Juan Mata" in January last year. It is unlikely the feature will be revisited this season.
For Mata to need to be restrained by first-team coach Silvino Louro having been substituted just 27 minutes after being sent on during United's Community Shield victory over Leicester City at Wembley gave a glimpse of the deep-rooted problems between the friendly 28-year-old and Mourinho.
It was reminiscent of Mata's final appearance in a Chelsea shirt, when he ignored Mourinho after being substituted during a 3-0 win against Southampton and complained to team-mates on the bench about his treatment.
Three weeks later, the player joined United in a £37.1m deal. When Mourinho returned to Chelsea in 2013, Mata had been named the club's player of the year for two successive seasons and was a darling of the fans after providing 25 assists and 18 goals.
But Mourinho did not particularly rate the achievement of being named the best player in a team who had finished sixth and third in the Premier League.
Nice does not interest Mourinho, whose obsession with winning has often meant he has embraced the nastier side of football, and it only took until October 2013 for him to reveal his problem with Mata.
"It is one thing to play with Ramires and Oscar closing down opponents on each side, and Mata as a No 10 behind a striker with his clever assists, clever passes and fantastic actions because he has great talent," said Mourinho.
"But it is another thing to adapt to the way we want to play. In this moment, Oscar is my No 10 and, if anyone tells me Oscar has not been Chelsea's best player this season, I'd have to disagree. I have to prove to the fans that I am good. Now (Mata) must do the same."
Mourinho expanded on this point following Mata's departure to United by saying: "It's difficult for me to leave him out of the team. It's difficult for me to decide that Oscar is going to be my No 10 and that I'm going to build my team around that decision. And it's difficult for him to accept the situation. He's a player with status."
Of his time Chelsea under Mourinho, Mata told the Spanish press: "For better or for worse, we had no relationship. There was no dialogue. I was not happy."
At 5ft 7in tall, Mata was, according to Mourinho, taken off because he was the smallest player in the United team as Leicester hit long balls in search of an equaliser.
That argument is at odds with the philosophy of Mata, who once said: "When you lose, a certain kind of player - the creative players - always get the blame.
"If a luxury player is a player who scores and assists, then I'm happy to be a luxury player. I want luxury players in my team. I like creative players and players who do different things. It's easy to say certain players are luxuries, especially when you've lost a game."
The fact United held on for a win is all that will interest Mourinho. But there may soon be no more Mr Nice Guy at Old Trafford. (© Daily Telegraph, London)