Juan Mata’s time at Manchester United might not be over yet.
Mata is one of six United players are out of contract in the summer and it was presumed that the Spaniard would be leaving Old Trafford after more than eight years alongside Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic and Lee Grant at the end of the season. Even Mata’s late-season spell in the United starting 11 didn’t look likely to change that outcome.
However, the 34-year-old has revealed that his future is not set in stone just yet and that there remains a possibility he could stay at the club. Mata has explained that he will hold talks with new manager Erik ten Hag before a final decision is made.
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“I will see when we speak how we feel” he told The Athletic. “What his ideas are, after that a decision will be made.”
Considering Mata’s elegance on the ball, great eye for a pass and creative spark, he might well fit into a Ten Hag midfield — even if he isn’t a regular in the side. However, if he was to stay then it would have some potentially frustrating consequences for Bruno Fernandes.
Mata has been United’s No.8 since he joined the club in January 2014 and that just so happens to be Fernandes’ favorite number. The Portuguese playmaker wore the jersey for former clubs Udinese and Sporting as well as on several occasions for his national team. In fact, he even has it tattooed on his forearm.
Yet, he has been unable to wear it for United as of yet, instead being forced to compromise with the No.18, which had been vacated by departed captain Ashley Young upon his arrival in January 2020 and was previously made iconic by legend Paul Scholes .
Despite its prestige, Fernandes appears to be desperate to swap it for the No.8, but missed out last summer when it was announced that Mata had signed a one-year extension. Upon the announcement, the 27-year-old took to social media to joke about the number.
“I guess I’ll have to wait for the number 8 another year,” he said on social media. To which Mata replied: “At least another year!
“I think he’s happy that I’m staying and I’m happy to be playing with him. We’ve got a great relationship since he came and, of course, he’s been brilliant for us on and off the pitch.
“He’s also a great guy and an example for others. Unfortunately for him, he will have to be patient!”
Fernandes may well have to be patient for longer if Mata does decide to stay for one more season but the No.18 does have sentimental value too, at least. “There are a lot of reasons for the no.18,” he told United’s official website when he took the number.
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“It’s a number I like. The last three years I have played as No.8 because it’s the number my father had as a player and my birthday and it’s the number I like.
“Number 18 is also the birthday of my wife and another reason is, when I grew up, I saw Paul Scholes playing in it and for me having this shirt and this number of an amazing player is something I will enjoy. I know I have a lot of responsibility.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.