Sport Soccer

Thursday 14 December 2017

Outside the Box: Selling Mata may be Mourinho's ultimate ego trip

A Chelsea fan holds a placard in recognition of Spanish midfielder Juan Mata, who just signed to join Manchester United
A Chelsea fan holds a placard in recognition of Spanish midfielder Juan Mata, who just signed to join Manchester United
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

WHEN Arsenal won 1-0 at St James's Park in the final game of last season, they were, rightly to an extent, mocked for their post-match celebrations about finishing fourth and scraping into the top 20 per cent of the entire league.

Even with a run of eight wins and two draws from their last 10 games, they still finished 16 points behind Manchester United whose dedication to the final few games of the season was summed up by the farcical 5-5 draw in Alex Ferguson's final game. The celebrations in Newcastle, it was said, summed up Arsenal's lack of a winning mentality.

And yet, when Mesut Ozil arrived for a club record £42m, the joy of securing Champions League football for another season looked justified. Arsenal could have offered huge wages and Arsene Wenger could have spoken to him in German for as long as he liked but with only Europa League football on offer, their chances of getting Ozil would have been minimal. The world's best players don't do Thursdays.

Only last week, Liverpool again lost a player to a rival who could offer the chance to play against Europe's elite when Mohamed Salah elected to join Chelsea. Last August, they were close to signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan; instead, he went to Dortmund.

Next summer, Manchester United may still find themselves in Liverpool's position of recent years of having to sell the club to prospective signings on the basis of tradition, stadium and masterplans on how to compete again with the best teams in Europe but, with Juan Mata now in their squad, it makes that task so much easier.

This is the level lifeline that Jose Mourinho and Chelsea have handed David Moyes and United. Forget the nonsense that this is some piece of genius designed to help United take points from both Manchester City and Arsenal and, consequently, help Chelsea win the league.


If that was the thought process, it would suggest Mourinho doesn't believe in himself or his players to do their own dirty work and beat City or Arsenal themselves. And the one thing this whole Mata process shows is that nobody has self-belief like Mourinho.

United may not be a threat to the title this season but teams have spent years and millions trying to knock them off their perch and, in the season when it has finally happened, Mata's arrival gives them a leg-up and a reference point to attract other signings who, otherwise, might not have been overly keen to play alongside Danny Welbeck. When it became clear before the game against Sunderland that the Mata deal was imminent, the atmosphere around Old Trafford was far more positive than it should have been considering what they had seen since Moyes took over.

Two hours, a schoolboy goalkeeping error and four missed penalties later, the mood was as low as it has been all season. Mata's arrival, however, means that instead of shifting nervously in their seats at the prospect of another disaster, Old Trafford will be brimming with expectation when Cardiff arrive tomorrow night.

Before the end of next month, United face trips to Stoke, Arsenal and Crystal Palace as well as a home game against Fulham and the away leg of their Champions League last-16 encounter with Olympiakos. They are five games which, with Mata involved in the league at least alongside Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, can provide a platform of momentum to finish the season strongly, qualify for the Champions League and pass this season off as one of transition.

Whether Mata is worth £37m is irrelevant because opportunities don't come along often to sign a 25-year-old proven Premier League performer from a team who will be among your biggest rivals in the coming seasons. There is no down side to this deal for United.

In Chelsea's case, it's a measure of the trust and power Mourinho holds that there is barely a murmur of hostility towards the decision. Oscar's superb goal yesterday against Stoke and the form of Eden Hazard means that phrases like "good business" are heard rather than any militancy. Had Rafael Benitez tried it, he would have been chased down the Fulham Road.

Mourinho, much like Giovanni Trapattoni did with Ireland, has a system and fits players into it rather than the other way around and, like Trapattoni, has always produced successful if not necessarily memorable teams based on power rather than panache. Mata's face, amazingly for a manager of such repute, doesn't fit.

UEFA's Financial Fair Play plan may have been a consideration but for a manager who famously took to a laundry basket to circumvent a UEFA dressing-room ban, it seems strange that Mourinho or the club would now be too concerned about their rules. Mata's £70,000-a-week wage, too, wasn't exactly pushing Chelsea towards financial ruin.

In most cases, there is justification for a transfer but, other than adding £37m into the coffers of a club owned by a billionaire, it's difficult to see any reason for Mata to be sold other than Mourinho setting himself a challenge of selling the club's best player of the past two seasons to a rival, and still being good enough to finish ahead of them.

United now have a world-class midfielder, a player fit to wear the iconic number seven jersey and a chance to qualify for the Champions League and rescue a season that was shaping up to be the worst in a couple of decades. And it's Mourinho and Chelsea who have given them all three.


Tweets of the week


Santi Cazorla (@19SCazorla)

Our apoligizes to the Totenham fans, we couldn't see the paper. #alwaysfootballalwaysrespect @piresrobert7 and @19SCazorla The Arsenal midfielder apologises for holding a sign – which he didn't read apparently – describing Spurs as s*** and sparking inevitable outrage


Pepe Mel (@pepe_mel)

I am very happy to be Head Coach at West Brom. The fans were very kind to me last night and I thank them very much for their songs.

The West Brom manager who needed an interpreter on Monday is tweeting in English on Tuesday


Craig Gardner (@CraigGards8)

What a game the fans were top class. Sorry for sh**ting yous up when I missed I knew we would go on and win haha #whodaredtodream #Wembley Sunderland midfielder, with great descriptive phrases, on the delight of winning at Old Trafford


Titus Bramble (@19tmb)

He's a pic for my haters. When you've played this many games in premier league I'll listen to what you have to say

The defender posts a picture showing his 298 Premier League appearances which says as much about the league as it does him.


Lukas Podolski (@Podolski10)

We did it:) #afc #facup #arsenal #team #podolski #özil #theox #gnabry #jenkinson

The German is strangely delighted by scoring two goals in a 4-0 win over a League One team


Radamel Falcao ((@FALCAO)

Ya estamos con @medicoulloa Dr. Noronha y el Dr. Dino petruchi para la cirugía

Our Spanish isn't great but we're guessing the surgeons are happy that the Colombian striker's ACL surgery went well rather than him being out of the World Cup


Sean St Ledger @seanstledger12 The bells from the church when ur tryin to sleep!

Ireland defender not happy with the noise, although he did tweet this at 10.55am which for most people is a decent lie-in


Bet you should have done

BETTING in-running can be profitable on FA Cup weekend and, with Watford 2-0 up away to City on Saturday, the home side's price went out to serious value.

Essentially, it was a bet that City could beat Watford by three goals in one half and, given how easily they've dispatched better opponents than the Hornets this season, it was an opportunity worthy of being seized.


The question nobody asked

How many clubs have more FA Cups than Ashley Cole?

The Chelsea and England left-back might not be the most popular player but his FA Cup record is extraordinary, with seven winner's medals – three for Arsenal and four for Chelsea. He remains on course for an eighth following yesterday's victory against Stoke.

Although the competition is 143 years old, only three teams have won the Cup more times than Cole has individually.

They are: Manchester United, who hold the record with 11, Arsenal, who have 10, and Tottenham with eight. Aston Villa have seven but are already out of the competition, Chelsea have the same number as Cole while Liverpool still have the chance to go ahead of Cole this season with what would be their eighth trophy.

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