No Laughing Mata for sellers Chelsea

Tears were shed as, after six months of speculation, Chelsea finally parted company with Juan Mata. But why did Jose Mourinho oversee the sale of Chelsea's most popular player of the last two years?

No Laughing Mata for sellers Chelsea

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January 28th, 2014

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Mata had served Chelsea very well at a time when the club had quite different aspirations within its grasp – whether or not the ownership will care to admit it. In the two full seasons in which he coasted to the title of Player Of The Year at the club, Blues came 6th and 3rd in the Premier League.

Which is not to say cup competitions did not make it one of the most glorious periods in the club’s history – with Mata delivering the two most garlanded assists of that period. But in those two years, Chelsea managed an average of just under 70 league points a season; whereas in Mourinho’s first spell at the club, the average was just under 90. On form so far, Chelsea are heading for 85 this season – almost entirely without Mata.

Mata suited very well a series of managers of frankly limited tactical ability: who were able to set up their teams for him, and tell him to go out and do his thing. By giving him freedom, the rewards were sublime to see – even if Chelsea underwent their least consistent spell of the last decade.

All of which is why he is the perfect buy right now for United.

But we all know Mourinho’s Chelsea is one of greater Premier League aspirations than that of Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo or Rafael Benitez. Or, indeed, the Manchester United of David Moyes. Mourinho expects a far more drilled formation and performance, where no player is allowed the luxury of brilliance over teamwork.

And, like it or not, results say Mourinho is right. We can never know for real how Mourinho would have dealt with a player like Gianfranco Zola, the player to whom Mata is most frequently – and, probably, most accurately – compared. But, on the one occasion in which the two Blues legends were forced together into the same match, the Sardinian (by then aged 38) was used as a 63rd minute sub by the Portuguese.

It was clear from the off that Mata did not have the attributes Mourinho most desires. He doesn’t have the pace that the very best clubs in Europe expect of a forward player; he doesn’t have the height or bulk Mourinho believes is mandatory for top performers in the Premier League. Just look at the buys he has made to improve the side: the hulking great giant Nemanja Matic; the cheetah-like Mohamed Salah.

Mata was never going to be either of those players.

Just like Zola, Mata is more than just a footballer.

They broke the mould when they made him: a cultured, stylish, intelligent man; who behaved less like the brash, spoilt footballers of now, than like the person most of us would secretly like to be. That, as much as his brilliance on the pitch, is why his departure from Chelsea has caused so much dismay.

Mata will do well at United – I’m sure of that. But I’m also sure that, however hard it is to take, Chelsea will do better without him than they managed in the two years he was a mainstay of the team.

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