Rooney row forces cloak and dagger deal for Mata
United are likely to have been turned down flat had they called Chelsea asking for permission to speak to Mata, after being made aware of his desire to leave west London.
Though the details of how the deal has been done are yet to emerge, the possible sequence of events is that Mata instructed his agent to find him a new club, United were made aware through a third party, but needed an intermediary of their own to begin discussions.
The club could not have approached Mata directly or they could have faced the same charges of trying to tap up a player which resulted in manager David Moyes' former club Everton being hit with a £45,000 fine and embarrassed this week.
The identity of United as the club with principal interest in Mata could therefore have been masked by intermediaries until it became clear that there was business to be done.
Then they made their move.
The deal – which is likely to see the 25-year-old undergo a medical at Carrington today – reveals the way that intermediaries and agents can get in on the action when clubs are unable to do business with each other.
The alternative explanation of United's use of a third party is that they wanted to call in transfer market experience which they possessed when Alex Ferguson and former chief executive David Gill ran the club.
United are understood to have had no contact whatsoever with businessman Kia Joorabchian, who took Carlos Tevez from United to City in 2009 and who has been on the edges of this deal.
United's nightmare season showed no sign of easing when they learned that the twisted ankle sustained by midfielder Michael Carrick against Sunderland on Wednesday night will keep him out for at least three weeks.
United are hopeful that he has avoided the lengthy lay-off that comes with torn ligaments, there is an anxious wait for scan results to reveal the full picture.
Robin Van Persie is back in training at Carrington after seven weeks out with a thigh injury, but the Dutch forward is not expected back until the game at Stoke tomorrow week.
United are likely to announce Mata as their player today but the club share price dropped from $15 (£9) to $14.85 yesterday, just above the 12-month low of $14.75. (© Independent News Service)