So, eventually, Mata did finally turn up with a natty handkerchief in his suit pocket after his now famous club-hired helicopter ride, which had been primed to be ready to roll from Battersea since last Tuesday.
Over on the Red Issuewebsite, we’d got a tip about this soon-to-be-legendary chopper being ordered by United and, from then on, the excitement mounted by the hour especially when it became clear it was almost certainly for Juan.
Even so, quite a few of the very best journalists were reluctant to believe the transfer was possible when the rumours started flying that day even after both the Telegraph and Mail had splashed it the next morning for two admittedly very good reasons. One, because notorious fixer Kia Joorabchian was involved in the story getting out and, two, because only weeks earlier Eddy Woodward and cohorts had been keen to rule any such move out when hacks enquired.
As one slightly bitter journo growled to me: “It’s hard to resist the temptation to label it a ‘panic buy’ when you’re looking at a text from a United suit, sent in early January, telling you to ignore Mata.”
Had a first choice dropped out of the reckoning in between then and now? One thought was that a move for Borussia Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan had collapsed but, as I write this, I’m still being told United would be very keen on him this summer if not making a late move before the window shuts. It is understood his uncle/agent came to Manchester twice in early January and I don’t think it was for the Selfridges sale.
But all that matters now is that Mata’s here and we’re thrilled. There’s a feeling resembling that which enveloped us when Veron signed — although that would obviously not be the most propitious of omens — because he’s an exciting player with proven international class and he cost a fortune.
Perhaps it’s a bit vulgar to be so turned on by the flashing of a large wad for an expensive exotic bauble but, hey, after several grisly weeks of slumming it, it’s marvellous to be reminded that we don’t actually belong in the football gutter.
Now what do we do with him, though? I remember some quietly asking ourselves that question about Veron too and it was never satisfactorily resolved. Every wiseacre has reminded us that Mata isn’t the precise type of player we were supposed to be after, which to most minds would be some kind of new Roy Keane (or even the old Roy Keane: he couldn’t have done any worse than the blundering plonkers we saw against Sunderland).
The facetious reply would be that Moyes & Co have not shown much idea of what they want to do with the squad, so what harm could it do to inject some undoubted quality and see what happens next time they give the Team Selection Kaleidoscope a twist?
In any event, we haven’t seen the rest of the plan yet, if the plan is there. There are going to be more arrivals, probably this week but certainly in the summer, and we still do not have any confidence that RVP, Kagawa and Hernandez will be here in August either.
Therefore all the hypothetical talk that fans are indulging in at the moment is like trying to do a jigsaw without the picture and with two or three pieces missing.
I still view this season as a write-off and I’m strangely comfortable with that. But all Reds of my age will remember Cantona’s alchemical arrival into a stuttering, under-performing side and a tiny hope will beat in the heart accordingly. You never truly know what affect a newcomer will have.
Much has been written about Juan Mata’s move to United this week and I’m afraid that I too am going to add to the incessant debate on the repercussions of this transfer.
But I’d like to write about what Juan Mata meant to us. Mata bucked the trend of everything one associates with footballers and their overindulgent, frivolous lifestyles.
The little Spaniard did not spend his spare time in casinos or nightclubs with a endless supply of pneumatic blondes on his arm. He didn’t embarrass himself on twitter, never courted controversy, was never on the front pages of the tabloids. Mata loved London and spent his time exploring his adopted city — not the usual tourist haunts but the real London that usually only the locals get to know. He also spent his spare time studying for a second degree — how many players do you know would be even capable of that? As if that wasn’t enough, he was articulate, humble, stylish, down to earth and friendly.
On the pitch, he was an artisan. The comparisons with Zola were inevitable and he immediately became a fans’ favourite.
Player of the year two seasons running, an integral part of the Champions League and Europa Cup successes. The potential was there for him to become a legend. Then the Special One came home.
I had my fears Mata wouldn’t be a Jose-type player but early on, it looked like the manager was trying to integrate Oscar, Hazard and Mata into our new style. But it soon became evident this wouldn’t come to pass.
The support was torn: we loved Mata but trusted Jose. If Jose didn’t want him, there was only ever going to be one outcome — and as much as it hurts, I can accept it.
What I can’t accept and can’t understand is why we sold him to United.
There can be no justification for strengthening one of your rivals. There has been a lot of rubbish spouted this week by lots of blinkered people trying to justify the deal but make don’t be under any illusions, this was about money, nothing more, nothing less. United offered more than anyone else and the club were worried Mata’s worth would fall should he spend the remainder of the season on the bench, especially if he didn’t feature in the World Cup. Personally I would have risked it and kept him to the end of the season before trying to sell him abroad.
What I am most interested in was whether Mourinho had any influence on who we sold him to. I would imagine that as soon as he identified Mata as a player that he didn’t need, the suits at the club would take over, but I can’t help but think that as soon as it became clear United were the front runners someone at least would have asked Jose whether he would approve of a domestic switch.
Then I wonder if Mourinho did agree the move to United whether it was a manifestation of his ego — that not only was he convinced Mata could not have made a telling contribution to Chelsea but that even if he did improve United, then Chelsea would rise to the challenge. A dangerous ploy to prove his superiority. At a time when a seriously injured United were at our mercy, instead of putting a foot on their throat and finishing them off — we have gifted them a lifeline that could prove a miracle cure. Only time will tell.
I thank Juan Mata for his dedication, professionalism, and some of the most joyful football I have enjoyed at the Bridge. I shed a tear when I read the farewell piece he had penned and I also think he is gutted that things didn’t work out at Chelsea. Sadly I cannot wish him success — but I’m sure he’d understand.
For this relief, much thanks. A year ago today, we were moaning about an ignominious cup exit. Since on this occasion we navigated the traps with little anxiety, we’ll need to find other things to complain about. And we will. That’s how we roll in L4.
For example it’s been quiet on the transfer front. Too damn quiet. In December, Brendan sloped off to watch Schalke-Basle; daydreamers hoped it was Draxler he was spying on, but then financial reality kicked in to reveal it was probably Salah.
Not that any of it mattered once Chelsea sashayed past him. Turns out we did our usual ‘come-hither and haggle’ wiggle anyway, which only serves to irritate both player and seller.
We needn’t necessarily lose out to richer clubs in these matters; we can offer more first-team football, though they have to earn it. A penny that’s only just dropped with Victor Moses, it seems.
When news emerged of lengthy absences for Lucas and Johnson, debates began over whether we should be chasing a winger at all.
Whoever is in charge of club PR needs a swift kick in the assets, since they seem to believe new sponsor deals involving doughnuts and cars will mollify the masses.
Internet murmurs became mutters. Lord knows what they’ll be by Friday. There’s every reason to fear Bostonian parsimony now will cost us an awful lot more in the long run. The last of the goodwill after the round-up of Butch & Sundance could be about to gurgle down the plughole.
That said, they may be asking what the tens of millions spent on Borini, Ilori, Aspas, Alberto and Sakho have achieved.
Although we’ve dropped from the top 10 richest clubs, we are only just being edged out by clubs with 80,000 capacities and continuous Champions League football.
The vast amounts spent by Rodgers do not suggest a shrivelling club on the way out; if anything they suggest a big club that has got it wrong far too often, for far too long.
If it soothes your furrowed brow, we’ve certainly got lots of defenders still to return, though if you’re worried about anything it should be discipline and organisation.
Scoring goals is never the problem, and despite media whines about pulled shirts Bournemouth were lucky to escape a hiding in the end.
There’s no way to win the perception war in such matches; just get it wrapped up and get out of town. The FA Cup breeds incredible schizophrenia; an intense love of giant killing mixed with contempt for giants who don’t take it 100% seriously. I’ve sometimes hoped for a difficult draw in order to avoid television’s noxious ordure. Things have gotten weird with Suarez again. The penalty against Villa seemed mildly debatable at best, but attention seekers wished to squeeze every drop of infamy out of him again.
It’s almost as if Collymore made the Luis/race connection, knowing a few oxygen thieves couldn’t resist, and by complete coincidence became front-page news. He did it without realising tabloid scum could always turn the tables on his own past.
Luis got booed at Bournemouth. It’s the way football is I know, but I wondered what they’ll tell their grandchildren in 30 years’ time about the day they watched one of the age’s best players: “I just gave him dogs’ abuse all day.”
Perhaps they’d been traumatised by the sight of Moses scoring.I’m not sure when we also became the only team to wrestle at corners, but everyone seems to think so; leastways we appear to be the only one that provokes a national debate on it.
But then Bale, United and Chelsea’s numerous simulators never seem to spark quite the argument Suarez does either. Maybe it’s all a compliment?