Chelsea: Selling Mata Was Short-Sighted & Will Come Back To Bite Us
Friday 24 January was a watermark moment for Chelsea Football Club as they sold a major player to a rival club for the first time during the Abramovich era.
Many have argued that selling Juan Mata to Manchester United at this stage doesn’t damage Chelsea, but rather strengthens their title credentials. Guillem Balague stated this overtly during the buildup to Real Madrid’s tie with Espanyol in the Copa del Rey on Sky Sports last week. Balague argued that since Chelsea have already met United twice this season the player can’t damage them but conversely can help take points off their fellow title rivals.
This argument is deeply flawed for several reasons but the most important is its sheer short sightedness. Juan Mata is a world class player and at 25 has yet to reach his peak. He is a brilliantly gifted footballer capable of fulfilling many roles and is a modest person off the pitch. He is not one to be a disruptive force in the changing room and I still believe he could have adapted to Mourinho’s philosophy (the amorphous entity that it is).
Mourinho stated that he would have liked to have kept the Spaniard for the rest of this season and I see no reason why Chelsea had to make the quick sale. He would have still commanded the same fee in the summer, foreign suitors would have been interested and Chelsea have no obligation to sell a player under contract.
I also felt the respectful narrative used by Mourinho to explain the transfer rung hollow. Chelsea have never shown weakness in the transfer market and now they are, “A special club and this club cares about people. This club is very respectful of the players and especially players who brought history to the club. Juan is one of these,” according to Mourinho in last week's press conference. Yes let a great servant to the club pursue his career if he is not in your plans. Don't force the issue and let him go to a league rival. United didn't succumb to the same pressure with Rooney in the summer so why did Chelsea now?
Another flaw in the argument is that Manchester United are in far more trouble than Juan Mata can account for. Yes, with Rooney and Van Persie back they look far more threatening, but the idea that they are guaranteed to take points off Arsenal and Manchester City this term is anything but certain.
Finally, Manchester United will get better. Mata is the first stage in this but if (and it’s a big if) they can secure Wayne Rooney until the end of his career and plug the massive gaps left by Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes they look like title challengers again. It's like giving the school bully your favourite stick and expecting him not to hit you with it.
The added bonus of giving Moyes time to shape the squad only strengthens this. That is if the Manchester United board puts their money where their mouth is and avoids the league-wide temptation of sacking a manager for short-term results.
On the other hand Juan Mata had to leave Chelsea under Mourinho. He is too good to sit on the bench and for whatever reason this is where Jose saw him fit to be. I have never seen evidence of a lack of work rate from Mata and certainly don’t see him as a prima donna afraid to put his foot in or work for the team.
United didn't succumb to the same pressure with Rooney in the summer so why did Chelsea now?
What Chelsea did do was move quickly to fill the gap left by the departed Juan Mata and Kevin de Bruyne, two players I love to watch. What they were replaced by couldn’t be a more proto-typical Mourinho signing, and shows very much what he wants from his forward players. Mata and de Bruyne are languid, technically gifted players without that explosion of pace Mourinho so covets for his counter-attacking game plan. This is why Willian has been preferred to Mata and to be honest few can argue with the results.
Mohammed Salah is blessed with electric pace, good finishing ability and two good feet, as he showed to devastating effect against Chelsea in the Champions league twice this season. Salah is adept at setting a platform for counter-attacks, and his pace can be devastating on the break and when getting in behind teams, unlike Mata.
The signings of Salah and Matic have helped bring a lot more balance to this Chelsea squad and I think it will improve the side in the long run, especially if they are to play as Mourinho would like.
It is certainly galling to lose our sweet little Spaniard but few Chelsea fans would have minded so much if he moved abroad, where he would be out of sight and out of mind. However seeing him in a Manchester United shirt will be hard to stomach, especially when we watch him help awaken the sleeping giant over the next couple of seasons.