Ever since Jose Mourinho was appointed the manager of Manchester United, there has been a lot of speculation regarding the future of Juan Mata, and why not? After all, Mourinho was the one who sold the Spaniard to Manchester United, during his second spell in charge of Chelsea.
However, a lot has changed for Mata since the last time he played under Mourinho.
Mata has always been one of the most gifted players to have played the game, blessed with immaculate ball control and an exceptional first touch, Mata has showed glimpses of his technical superiority ever since his initial days with Valencia.
Mata possesses the ability to find time and space on the ball, no matter how fast-paced the game around him may be.
Along with all of the above, Mata also possesses the ability to produce a killer pass and also finish with aplomb, particularly on his left foot. These qualities are perhaps what make Mata one of the most natural ‘No.10’s’ in the game.
It was perhaps these qualities that lured Chelsea to bring Mata to Stamford Bridge in 2011.
The start of something special
Playing in the space behind the striker and wearing the number 10 shirt, Mata made an instant impact at Chelsea, scoring on his Premier League debut itself. In a way, Mata’s first performance for Chelsea was a sign of things to come.
The Spaniard soon established himself as a first team regular at Chelsea but also as an integral part of the lineup. His contributions were indispensable as the Blues went on to win the FA Cup and their first-ever Champions League trophy in his first season at the club. Mata’s performances meant that he won Chelsea’s player of the season award.
The following season, Mata once again was at the heart of all good things for Chelsea; as they went on to win the Europa League. This title meant that Mata now held the World Cup, the European Championship, the Champions League and Europa League trophies simultaneously.
Once again, Mata was deservedly crowned Chelsea’s player of the season, for the second straight year.
Enter Jose Mourinho
The beginning of Mata’s third season with Chelsea coincided with the return of Jose Mourinho for his second spell in charge of Chelsea. However, the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ did not afford Mata any special treatment.
Mourinho moved Mata from his preferred No.10 position and deployed him as an outright winger. This new role required Mata to track back and help his team out defensively, something that Mourinho demands from all his wide players and which does not come naturally to Mata.
This resulted in Mata being demoted to the bench, despite being a fan favourite and Chelsea’s best player in the two seasons that preceded Mourinho’s return. More decisively, Mata decided to end his frustration by sealing a move to Manchester United in January 2014.
However, the United that Mata joined was one in transition following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and went on to endure a torrid time under David Moyes, who was sacked less than a year into his managerial tenure.
Nevertheless, Mata’s arrival was one of the few bright spots for United that season.
United replaced Moyes with Louis van Gaal the following season and despite starting well under the Dutchman, Mata once again fell out of favour and found himself on the bench. Moreover, even when Van Gaal did play Mata, he used him as a winger rather than an attacking midfielder, thus nullifying Mata’s creative abilities.
But even Van Gaal couldn’t return United to their glory days and thus two years later, he too was sent packing.
Mourinho took charge of United at the beginning of the current campaign in a bid to reclaim their lost glory. Once again, all eyes were on Mata’s equation with the former Chelsea manager.
But this time around, what seems to be working in Mata’s favour is his previous experience of playing under Mourinho. Having played under the Portuguese at Chelsea Mata now seems to understand the demands of his manager better than anyone else.
More importantly, Mata seems to be better prepared both physically and mentally to adapt to the needs of his manager, and the results are there for all to see. Not only has Mata started five out of seven Premier League games so far this season, he has also managed to conjure up two goals and an assist in the process.
Mata’s resurgence has coincided with Wayne Rooney’s dip in form of late, and this has resulted in Mata taking Rooney place in United’s starting line-up in recent games.
Moreover, if Mata’s performances so far are anything to go by, Rooney is going to have a tough time finding his way back into United’s starting line-up. More importantly, on a personal note, Mata has said that he has never had a bad equation with Mourinho, and if Mata continues to perform this way for the rest of the season, it will only enhance his equation with the manager.
To conclude, it could only be said that it’s truly amazing how Mata has evolved since the last time he played under Mourinho. From once being the unwanted one, Mata is now the ‘Chosen Juan’.
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