Juan Mata transfer wrap-up: Chelsea picks Manchester United’s pocket

United must have the worst negotiators in football history.

ME: I have a proposition for you. I have this car I bought three years ago. But then I bought a couple of others I like better. I never drive it anymore and, to be honest with you, I’m never going to. Even worse, it’s costing me a fortune every month to keep it in storage. It’s a great car – seriously, it’s one of the hottest cars in town. Sleek, stylish, high performance. Chicks dig it, too. But nobody else wants it for some reason. And man, am I desperate for cash. The ex is bleeding me dry on alimony.

Tell you what, I paid $50,000 for it. I’ll let you have it for $100,000, cash on the barrelhead.

YOU: Really? SHWEET!

Seriously? Which one of these guys are you, anyway?

David Moyes and Avram Glazer - Dumb and Dumber
David Moyes and Avram Glazer Star in Dumb and Dumber

Thing is, that scenario is more or less what just transpired between Chelsea and Manchester United over the sale of Juan Mata.

The facts aren’t in dispute. Mata was the Chelsea player of the year two years running, a lethal attacking mid who can both score and create for others. Wildly popular with his teammates and the club’s fans and still only 25, the future at Stamford Bridge seemed positively blinding for the Spanish lad.

The only problem is that as wonderful as he is in a certain kind of possession-minded attacking game (think Barcelona here), Mata is less useful in new manager Jose Mourinho’s defend-like-there’s-no-tomorrow-then-counter-attack system, and even when he’s trying his absolute hardest he’s a liability when the other side has the ball. No one faults his commitment or his effort, but the bottom line is that he’s one of those guys who’s perfect for one system and not perfect at all in another.

It’s been clear since September, if not longer, that Mata’s departure wasn’t an if, but a when (and to where, and for how much?).

So the January transfer window arrives. Chelsea values Mata at around £37M and they’re hoping to sell him somewhere abroad – Italy would be great, and back home to sunny Spain would be even better. Maybe Atletico Madrid?

The Blues would sell him to someone in England if they had to, so long as it wasn’t to Man U. Chelsea was still pretty twisted about United’s refusal to sell them Wayne Rooney last summer, and the upshot amounted to a willingness to deal Mata to anyone in the world except the bloody Mancs.

Then something funny, and perhaps unexpected, happened. Nobody was interested. As in, no. Body. No takers in Spain, not even a nibble. Nobody in Italy. Not City, not the Scousers, not Arsenal, not Spurs. The only team interested was United.

And they, against all reason, seemed willing to cough up a franchise-record transfer fee to land the man they feel can re-energize a midfield that’s been deader than Sir Alex Ferguson’s top layer of skin.

Remarkable. Chelsea, at this point, had zero leverage. United was holding all the cards. There was no market for Mata’s services. He was surplus to requirements at the Bridge. He was probably underpaid, but still represented a significant weekly wage hit for an emergency sub. The Financial Fair Play rules meant that Chelsea had to nudge their books in the direction of black – significantly, and sooner rather than later. And while Mata was being a model professional about his diminished role, there can be little doubt that as the transfer deadline neared his people were going to get more aggressive about forcing a move. That Spain national side is packed to the rafters with world-class talent and you aren’t going to shoehorn your way into it sitting on the bench, even one as luxuriously appointed at the one at Fulham Rd, London SW6.

Had United played hardball, it’s possible they could have captured their man for significantly less than the £37.1M they eventually splashed out. Instead, Chelsea gets list price for a guy they paid £23.5M for in 2011. No haggle value for a guy that they weren’t using, that was costing them money to keep, and that nobody else was interested in? Pinch me.

Chelsea fans hate to see Mata go. He has been a fabulous player for them and one in whom they have invested a good deal of emotion. It’s rare that you just decide to offload the talisman from a side that won the freakin’ Champions League. For the US football fan, imagine if, after that last Super Bowl win, the Patriots had decided to trade Tom Brady. To the Colts. It’s maybe not quite that extreme, but you get the idea.

In other words, emotion aside, Chelsea hasn’t simply conducted a good bit of business here, they absolutely skinned United. Don’t get me wrong – Manchester is getting a great player, no doubt, and one who has the potential to be a star for years to come. They’re not going to regret having him in the side, not ever.

But boy fucking howdy, did they overpay.

Kudos to whatever grifter Chelsea has in charge of negotiations these days. If you’d given them a couple more days they might have gotten the price up to £40M, and maybe Moyes would have tossed Robin van Persie in to sweeten the deal a bit….

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