There appeared to be little risk element involved when Manchester United struck a multi-million deal with Chelsea for the services of Juan Mata in January.
They may have been parting with a club record £37.1 million transfer fee, but they were acquiring a two-time Player of the Year at Stamford Bridge and a man with European Championship and World Cup winners’ medals to his name.
United were also in the middle of a testing transitional period which few saw coming, with inspiration needed from somewhere to get the then reigning Premier League champions back on track and appease a fan base growing increasingly disillusioned with the efforts of David Moyes and his chosen troops.
Mata was supposed to be the answer, the man in possession of a skeleton key to unlock the tightest of defences and an arrival which confirmed that, for all of their struggles, United remained an attractive proposition to global superstars.
It is, however, now difficult to determine what the question was if Mata has been the answer.
Hitting top gear at a side stuck in reverse was always going to be difficult last season, with few of those at Old Trafford emerging from the wreckage of the 2013/14 campaign with any credit.
The problem is, at least for Mata, that his inability and that of those around him to bring about a reversal in fortune led to a summer of change at the Theatre of Dreams, with Louis van Gaal’s experience drafted into the dugout and a number of big-money acquisitions added to the playing staff.
Among those welcomed through the doors was Angel di Maria, with transfer records smashed again in order to lure the talented Argentina international away from Champions League winners Real Madrid.
Mata must have feared from the moment he first heard murmurings of interest in Di Maria that his standing as United’s creative spark was under serious threat. Why else would they be looking for another playmaker with a wand of a left foot?
United have seen their £60m man offer a greater return on their investment than their £37m one, and that has sparked speculation that the latter may be offloaded in January in order to fund the pursuit of further fresh faces.
Mata, of course, insists he is reading little into the rumours and remains fully committed to United and his efforts to secure a regular role under Val Gaal. What else would he say?
Opta statistics suggest, though, that it may be advisable for United to cut their losses, move Mata on and reinvest the funds he generates on either another midfield schemer – a Yohan Cabaye, for example – or on the experienced centre-half they are still crying out for – with Ron Vlaar, Gerard Pique, Winston Reid and Mats Hummels generating mounting transfer talk.
|Goal Assist||Goals||Total Scoring Att||Total Pass||Accurate Pass||Total Through Ball||Touches||Appearances||Mins Played|
|Ángel Di María||5||3||31||397||314||10||659||9||734|
Mata – along with Ashley Young, another of those seemingly on borrowed time – is not offering as much in the final third as he once was.
Di Maria betters him in just about every area in the middle and final thirds, while Adnan Januzaj is a blossoming talent United are expecting big things from in the present and future.
Do they need Mata? Would, as suggested above, the money they could bring in by moving him on be better used in other areas – areas where the Red Devils are not quite as well stocked?
How much, though, will they be able to recoup for a player who will have spent just a year on their books.
If recent reports are to be believed then Atletico Madrid might be willing to do a deal, but they are only looking to pay around £20m for a man who cost close to double that 12 months ago.
United must weigh up the pros and cons, consider what Mata brings to their collective cause and whether they would be willing to take a financial hit as part of a package which could prove beneficial to all parties in the long run – freeing up a space in their squad and allowing Mata to take on a new challenge elsewhere.