David Moyes looked as though he’d rather be anywhere else than at Old Trafford after Vito Mannone’s penalty save sent Sunderland to Wembley. As his eyes closed with forlorn disbelief, he depicted a man riddled with dejection and hopelessness. He trudged down the touchline to the tunnel, glancing up at the Stretford End and applauded what fans remained with little conviction. He looked a beaten man.
It’s staggering to think that behind the scenes, Moyes and Manchester United were on the verge of completing one of the biggest transfers in English football history, and the most substantial in the long and illustrious existence of the club. During the game, it was reported that the Premier League champions had agreed a fee of £37 million for Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata.
Whilst United supporters leaving Old Trafford will have been desperately saddened at missing out on a trip to Wembley, the signing of Mata will act as a pretty decent consolation prize. Bringing in a player of his proven Premier League class will settle some nerves during this testing period, for it’s a stern indicator that the club remain fiercely ambitious and despite their current deficiencies, are still in contention for the very best players around.
Moyes has had to bear the weight of inflated expectation and the inevitable criticism in his first season at Manchester United. Justifiably so? Well, he has inherited a creaking squad rife with injuries, but his tactics have been regularly questionable. So too has his team selection.
But those who said the former Everton boss wouldn’t be able to draw the big names to the club will be eating their words when Mata finally dons United red. He’s a huge name, and for Moyes to convince the Spaniard to join — even with Champions League football far from secure ahead of next season — represents a major coup and a wonderful, clinical bit of business.
Of course there are questions about how he might fit into the team. Given United’s attacking midfield riches it would be fair to say he is more of an indulgence than a necessity. But after watching a Red Devils team devoid of any creative spark in recent weeks, Mata could have his pick of a host of positions to operate in.
Anyway, he’ll improve United regardless of whether he plays central, off the striker or wide. Those who have concerns about whether Mata is the right man for United seem to have forgotten how marvelous a player he was for Chelsea before his recent first-team hiatus.
A fee of £37 million might seem substantial, but in the eyes of many, the Spaniard was the finest player in the Premier League last season. Lets not forget, he contributed 12 goals and 12 assists in the Premier League in 2012/13 playing in a host of different positions across the midfield.
In addition to his wonderful showings domestically, Mata has won the World Cup, European Championships, Champions League, FA Cup and Europa League. Combine his unquestionable quality with an obvious winning mentality and United have some player on their hands.
Perhaps most importantly of all, Mata wants to join the club and he obviously backs the long-term vision of the manager. Surely belief will pave the way for other high-calibre acquisitions either in this window or in the summer?
It’s expected that this deal will be the first and last for United in this window. So lets look ahead to the summer, which is shaping up to be a wholly significant time for United, irrespective of how this season concludes. The Red Devils need to build, and a January window without a major acquisition followed by a finish outside the top-four would have hampered their clout in the transfer market significantly.
And that’s why Mata’s signing is so crucial; because of the subsequent incoming deals it could facilitate. One year out of the Champions League in a season of seismic transition can be considered a blip. But a second? Players might think twice about joining. A third? You’re reputation is already on the wane.
United have made a big statement with this deal, and all involved will be delighted with their acquisition. Despite his flaws, Moyes is still learning in his new role, but to their credit, the club’s hierarchy are backing him to the hilt by stumping up the cash for a club record transfer.
They are positive moves and actions that will inject some impetus into a squad that currently looks bereft purpose and confidence, not to mention a fan base who seem to be harbouring a simmering frustration when it comes to on and off pitch matters.
Of course Mata’s arrival won’t immediately solve the mounting issues that face Moyes at Old Trafford. The squad is dire need of refreshing and with doubts at left-back, central-defence and in central-midfield, the former Everton boss is going to have his work cut out assembling a squad to challenge next year.
Nonetheless the Spaniard is an excellent initial capture and one that can only aid the club’s pulling power come the summer window. Expect an extra spring in the step of the United players and manager come their next outing and a real assault on the top-four places in the season run- in. Lead, of course, by their club-record signing.
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