Let’s throw something out there at the start, just so we are clear: I don’t agree with Jose Mourinho’s treatment (or opinion) of Juan Mata.
I have never won a Champions League, nor even dabbled in football management – aside from the virtual kind, of course. And yet that does not prevent me from having an opinion on one of the most debatable issues of Chelsea’s campaign so far.
It is becoming something of a cliché to argue against Mourinho’s decision by stating how good Mata has been in the past; to say a man previously crowned Player of the Year deserves his place purely due to that.
But the simple fact is, in a season when Chelsea’s strikers are yet to score a Premier League goal between them, the man who scored 12 goals and provided 12 assists in that same competition last year surely has a significant and sustained role to play.
Oscar may be Mourinho’s preferred number 10, but his decision to (temporarily) ostracise Mata appears less a case of a manager wanting him to improve the weaker elements of his game, more someone marginalising last year’s stand-out performer as a means to assert his authority on the team.
A harsh assessment? Quite possibly. But I see little other reason for a player of Mata’s quality to sit out game after game while his teammates struggle for consistency; and as if to prove it, when he was introduced at half-time in the recent match at White Hart Lane, his energy and creative spark changed the game.
He showed against Steaua Bucharest last week that he has lost none of his passion for the game while apparently working on his flaws behind the scenes. And this afternoon against Norwich City, I expect him to continue his one-man mission to prove Mourinho wrong.
Perhaps the Blues’ boss is simply trying to turn a great player into a perfect one, a mind-game played out for the world to see with the manager knowing Mata will rise to the occasion.
Of his need to adjust to Mourinho’s demands, the player has already said, “I have to do this. I will try to improve, score goals, assist and do what I have to do.”
And yet you wonder what would have happened had Mata played every minute of every match so far. And why he was the one forced to adapt when the teammates he regularly outshone last season were left to do what they had always done.
What are your thoughts on the Mata situation?
image: © Wshjackson