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.