It was the headline move of January 2014’s winter market; the swap of jerseys from Blue to Red for Spanish international, Juan Mata.
Then deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, then Manchester United manager, David Moyes, paid handsomely to acquire the services on arguably the league’s most prolific playmaker for two seasons.
As a result, Mourinho came under fire for that piece of business. However, Mata failed to live up to the £37.1 million price tag at United, thus deflecting criticism off Mourinho, who had highlighted Mata’s defensive liability and poor physical capabilities as the reason for departure. As such, it seemed like a shrewd piece of business from the Portuguese, in light of the Spaniard’s inability to settle in a dysfunctional side who lacked identity.
However, 14 months later, as the sides prepare to lock horns at Stamford Bridge, the tale has turned on its head. Juan Mata, the player who, along with Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck, seemed to be facing the axe, turned his United career around as the revelled in boost of confidence he received under Dutchman, Louis Van Gaal.
Over the last five games, Mata has flourished and already etched his name in the folklore of United, having aided the cause as United propelled into the top four. He has found the net nine times this season, in a attack is beginning to look the most devastating post Sir Alex’s era.
All of a sudden now, Mourinho may be left questioning his decision to offload the seemingly ‘luxury’ player. This, especially given the returns of Willian, the incumbent that ultimately took his place in Chelsea’s line up. Mourinho was further forced to dip into the purse to purchase Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa over the summer, as he sought to link midfield to attack and attack to the back of net.
Based on their places in the league, Mourinho may be afforded the last laugh at the end of the season, however Juan Mata may laugh first as the two sides go head-to-head. Not only is he motivated to push United as further up the table as possible, he is more than fired up to show his former employers just what they let go in what was the biggest shock transfer of that winter market.