Does Juan really Mata to Mourinho?
The Uefa Super Cup has improved in recent years. Maybe it’s an early shop window, maybe the player bonus pool has gone up or maybe it’s a Chelsea thing? Whatever the reason, this one-off showpiece game seems to mean more than it did.
But for one man, it was another game that came and went. Juan Mata hasn’t had much love, it seems, since the “Special One” returned to Stamford Bridge and, with Manchester United struggling to buy players, Mata’s Chelsea obituary has, at one point or another, been written by every football blogger, website and newspaper journalist in the country. He has, after all, played just 60 minutes of football in Chelsea’s opening two Premier League matches.
I used to think that finding oneself out of favour at a football club was the end of the world but these days, and with football the way it is right now, the new-found capitalist in me tends to think of it as more of an opportunity, especially for a player operating at the level that Mata is. He is well regarded by many a manager and appears to be humble with it; he’d have no trouble finding a home with another top club if that is his wish.
But for many of us, losing your footing at a club can be significant, both financially and in terms of the next move. If a player has no “brand” to speak of and he isn’t playing, then it can sometimes be difficult to persuade another club to take you.
It has happened to me only once and at a club that I played for relatively recently. It was particularly bizarre because the decision had been forced on to the manager by the fans … or so he claimed. I remember when he gave me the news in his office; the conversation was brief and went something like this:
The fans hate you and it kills the atmosphere when you have the ball
Manager: “Look, I just can’t play you. The fans hate you and it kills the atmosphere when you have the ball or when I bring you on. I can’t have that for the team.”
TSF: “Fine. Can I stay at home then on matchdays?”
Manager: “No. You need to be in training with the rest of the squad and in on matchdays.”
TSF: “So you want me to come in every day and give you my all in training, even though we know I’m never going to play here again? And you want me to come and watch the game, too? Why?”
Manager: “Look, don’t be like that. It’s my decision, OK?”
And that was followed by a loud-door slam and plenty of cursing to boot. But things change quickly in football and, after an absence of half-a-dozen games or so, I found myself included in the squad again. In my first match back, I came off the bench while we were losing 2-1 and, if I may say, turned the game on its head and we won 3-2.
In the changing-room after the match, the manager stepped forward. “Fucking look at TSF,” he said. “He’s out the team for a few weeks and he comes on and gives it his all. He’s ready when we needed him. You young ones especially can learn something from that.”
And that was when our captain stood up and said: “Gaffer, he should never have been out of the team in the first place. It’s a fucking joke, you should be fucking apologising to us.” And that was when all hell broke loose. A little while after that, our manager left the club. It is amazing what a manager can lose the dressing-room over.
He’s out the team for a few weeks and he comes on and gives it his all
At the top of the week, when I decided to write about Mata, I phoned my friend at Chelsea, who told me the following when I asked why the Spaniard wasn’t featuring. “He’s been injured, mate,” he explained. “He’s just coming back and we’ve got other fully fit players who can play who are just as good.”
And by the end of the week, Jose Mourinho said: “Everything is clear between me and the player. We have no problems. I think he’s a very important player for us. He wants to be a very important player for us. He wants to stay. I want him to stay, the club want him to stay.”
We all know that Mata is not a poor footballer. He may have been injured but, let’s be honest, he isn’t the high energy, powerful and direct type of player that Mourinho likes to fill his teams with. I played against him at Stamford Bridge and, to be honest, given the time and space he had with the ball at his feet, I have to say that I wasn’t knocked out by him.
Mata is a rarity where my own game is concerned. He is the type of player who I could go toe to toe with in a match and have a chance of coming out on top – if our teams were evenly matched, of course – whereas players such as Hazard, Schurrle, Oscar, Ramires and Van Ginkel would run me into the ground before showing how effective and incisive they can be with the ball.
I do remember asking him if he was able to do anything else other than pass the ball sideways? And in fairness, he gave me a little smirk
But the funny thing about that statement is that Mata would be in my team every weekend. He was integral to Chelsea’s Champions League and Europa League triumphs as well as winning the club’s player-of-the-year award in each of the last two seasons. And let’s not forget that he is a man who has won the Euros and the World Cup with Spain.
Why do I feel that way about Mata? I couldn’t tell you. It could be that the game against my team was so easy for him that he didn’t have to do anything spectacular but I do remember asking him if he was able to do anything else other than pass the ball sideways? And in fairness, he gave me a little smirk. He’d been rumbled.
But I also completely understand where Mourinho is coming from. The Portuguese has shown a ruthlessness that stems entirely from his vision of how a successful football team needs to play.
The fact that, as I type this, Chelsea have just lost the Super Cup with ten men – 5-4 on penalties after a 2-2 draw – when they really could have done with a player like Mata to come on and keep the ball. It only emphasises the Mourinho approach. He would have turned to his bench and seen Mata and then he’d have told John Terry to warm up.
A penny for the Spaniard’s thoughts at that moment.