Manchester United are reported to be in contract negotiations with Juan Mata and fellow countryman Ander Herrera, both of whom could leave Old Trafford as free agents in June.
Mata, who has emerged as a tremendously popular figure at the club ever since he arrived from Chelsea in the murky depths of the David Moyes era in 2014, has been linked with both Arsenal and a return to La Liga where he last played with Valencia in 2011.
Here are six reasons why United cannot afford to let the Galician leave.
6. Rewarding Loyal Service
Mata actively deserves a new contract for serving United for the last four-and-a-half years.
A World Cup and Champions League winner and twice Chelsea Player of the Year before arriving at Old Trafford as £37.1m record signing in January 2014, he hasn’t kicked up a fuss even though things haven’t exactly gone as planned at the club.
The Spaniard always gives his all and his reaction towards Raheem Sterling’s late showboating in the Manchester derby last weekend was a sign that he still desperately cares.
5. Important for the Dressing Room
Football is not all about what happens on the pitch and Mata is a key figure in the United dressing room as a senior player and leader, one who has captained the team on several occasions.
Every squad needs figures that others can look up to, individuals who can perhaps solve disputes, get the team working together, and generally lead by example.
One recent example of the role Mata performs behind the scenes concerns the plight of Alexis Sanchez at Old Trafford. A report from The Times this month explained that Sanchez has been left feeling ‘lonely’ and ‘ignored’ after seemingly failing to build a rapport with his teammates.
Mata is apparently one of only three players – the others being David de Gea and Romelu Lukaku – who actually takes the time to engage with Sanchez. And Mata’s support could be crucial if fans are ever to see the best of Sanchez in a United shirt.
4. Great With Fans
Mata is not your typical modern footballer. He is more interested in art and culture than Snapchat and FIFA 19 – Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery is one of his favourite places.
He also has charitable interests such as Common Goal, and handles himself with incredible humility in an industry where arrogance and self-promotion often rules.
Mata certainly hasn’t forgotten that football owes itself to fans. He makes sure to regularly interact with supporters, posing for pictures and signing autographs for younger fans, and always seems so flattered and blown away by the love he receives in return.
Fans need players they can engage and identify with.
3. He WANTS to Play for United
United could do a lot worse than keep a player like Mata who wants to play for the club given that a handful of other individuals have looked like they could take it or leave it at various points over the last couple of years.
When it was reported last month by The Sun that United wanted to further contract talks it was noted that Mata is ‘keen to stay’. It also doesn’t appear to be about holding out for more money as a source even told the tabloid, “It’s purely about playing for Juan,” and that “…it is by no means certain that even extra cash will do the trick.”
Playing time is something that Mata hasn’t had enough of. He’s only started 28 of the 50 Premier League games United have played since the start of last season, such has been the revolving door policy behind manager Jose Mourinho’s team selection.
It is perfectly understandable that a 30-year-old should want to play as much as possible.
He remains invested in the local area too. It has already been mentioned how a local art gallery is one of his favourite places to visit, but Mata also co-owns a Spanish restaurant in the centre of Manchester as well.
2. Unique Ability
Mourinho has often used Mata wide on the right over the last two-and-a-half years. It is a role he can play but not one in which he genuinely thrives.
His skill set is more suited to that of a ‘number 10’ and he was noticeably better when he played centrally in the recent 2-2 draw against Chelsea. He then played there again against City but United saw so little of the ball as a team that Mata was ineffectual.
United have no one else who can really perform that role, and speaking to ESPN last month, Old Trafford legend Paul Scholes suggested that the missing piece in the underperforming current team is a ‘link player between the midfield and the forwards’.
Scholes explained, “The link player must have the quality to pass and create. I did it a bit. I’m thinking more of a [Kevin] De Bruyne, [Eden] Hazard or David Silva.”
Scholes actually mentioned Mata as an option but expressed concern over a lack of ‘legs’ to perform the role. He is arguably no less physically able than David Silva, though, and it would be on the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Fred to do the midfield leg work for him.
As long as Mata has the vision and intelligence to take up dangerous positions and pick passes then he could be lethal for United. What’s more, finding a player in the transfer market to do the same job might cost £100m or more given today’s enormous prices.
1. Important Goals
Mata has often chipped in with important goals for United, managing to find the net 10 times in all competitions in each of his first three full seasons. His output dropped to just three last season, but he has already matched that tally just a quarter of the way through 2018/19.
Taking the 2016/17 campaign as an example, Mata scored United’s very first Premier League goal to take the lead against Bournemouth on the opening weekend. He later netted a crucial second in a 4-1 win over Leicester, the only goal in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal and opening goals against West Ham and Watford over the course of the campaign.
It was similar in the cups after decisive EFL Cup goals against Manchester City and Hull, a crucial second goal in a 4-0 win over Feyenoord and a winner against Rostov in Europe.
And no United fan can forget Mata’s contributions in games against Liverpool. He had a direct hand in four of the five goals United scored against Liverpool home and away in the Premier League in 2014/15. Mata scored assisted in a 3-0 win at Old Trafford that season, before later netting a brace in a 2-1 win in the reverse fixture at Anfield, including an acrobatic volley.