Man United: Let's Hope Mata Signing Encourages More Big Players To Follow

We all know about his quality but he wouldn't be the first seemingly-great player to falter under the weight of the shirt - and wouldn't that be just our luck?
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We all know about his quality but he wouldn't be the first seemingly-great player to falter under the weight of the shirt - and wouldn't that be just our luck?

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Manchester United fans, in recent years, have had to resort to gazing wistfully through the mists of time to get their favourite transfer fixes. Aside from the signing of Robin Van Persie at the beginning of last season, we have grown used to surviving on scraps, having generally been asked to put our faith in the youthful potential of project-players; raw individuals with their careers stretched, if not entirely mapped, out before them.

This has been fine, up to a point. We recall with great fondness the shining light of this transfer strategy, Cristiano Ronaldo, who was brought to United as a gifted, impetuous, rough diamond of a teenager, brimming with promise and wonder. For six glorious years we watched him blossom into one of the finest footballers on the planet. Then we sold him to Real Madrid, just as he was reaching the peak of his powers.

Others, too, have been enjoyable to watch, without ever coming close to hitting the heights of the current Ballon d'Or holder.

Anderson and Nani, signed during a summer of relatively big spending, have shown glimpses, occasionally turning to periods of sustained viewing, of genuine class. Nevertheless, the majority of United fans greet David Moyes' indifference to the two with an understanding shrug, having grown weary of their inconsistency and flattery to deceive for over six ultimately disappointing years. Moments of magic are not enough to sustain a career at this club and, with Anderson gone, it would be surprising to find Nani still back-flipping his way over the Old Trafford turf after the summer.

Then there is a depressing rabble of passably decent players who have started strongly before tailing off into mediocrity under the weight of the shirt. The likes of Javier Hernandez, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, all of whom would seem less out of place plying their trade for a lesser light than the twenty-time champions of England.

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Phil Jones continues to improve, while still having something of the caricature-footballer about him, all flailing limbs and ludicrous zeal, yet his progress has surely been hampered by having been cast as that most depressing of things: a 'utility' player. This, of course, is in itself largely due to the club's stupendously stubborn refusal to invest in proven talent in midfield and at the back, with Chris Smalling also suffering from being played out of position, as out of place in the right back role as Del Boy's Reliant Robin in a Maserati showroom.

What has made United's transfer dealings even harder to take is the view across town, as the fatted calf of Manchester City has continued to gorge itself on genuine world-beaters like Aguero and Silva, after making off with one of our own in the shape of Carlos Tevez. This is another reason the signature of Van Persie warmed United cockles to such an extent.

The signing of Juan Mata is, arguably, more exciting even than that of the Dutchman. Here is a player only just approaching his prime, already proven in the Premier League, with a collection of winner's medals most can only covet, and still ravenous for more.

Yet it is not only Mata's undoubted ability and star quality that gets the juices flowing. It goes much further than that, for it shows genuine intent on the part of the club, not to mention the clear, much needed signal that they are, to paraphrase his predecessor, getting fully behind their new man, by spending a huge sum on a genuinely class act, while simultaneously eradicating some of the stench of their summer incompetence.

Moyes himself must be overjoyed, and it was difficult not to feel happy for him as he beamed with satisfaction sat alongside by far the biggest signing of his managerial career, in stark contrast to the almost apologetic grin he wore upon capturing Fellaini. You could almost see the realisation that he is now managing Manchester United finally washing over him.

It feels good to be a United fan again and, even this feeling only lasts until the end of the Cardiff match, for now it is enough that a player of Juan Mata's standing and potential influence has chosen to come to us, given the scare-stories abounding recently of United's dwindling appeal and the potential for an exodus of Champions League-seeking talent in the summer.

Big clubs attract big names. Big names attract other big names. Let us hope that Mata's signature is the first of many, and inspires the current incumbents to raise their game, and that Manchester United can rise again, from the ashes of Moyes' baptism of fire.

Follow Paul on Twitter, @PaulGunning1