The eighth anniversary of Juan Mata’s arrival at Manchester United has just passed, but you’d be forgiven for forgetting he’s still at the club.
Only David de Gea and Phil Jones have been in United’s first team longer than Mata, but even injury-ravaged Jones, who had spent two years on the sidelines, has played more Premier League minutes than him this season.
That’s not particularly difficult as even this journalist has played the same number of minutes in England’s top flight this season as one of their most talented attacking midfielders: exactly zero.
It is quite sad to see. Well, sad not to see, rather. A player of the immense quality of Mata and a great United server deserves a much better final swan song.
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Towards the end of last season, it looked like the Spaniard would be gone and it made a lot of sense.
He had recently turned 33 and while he was still talented, he obviously no longer had the engine to be a regular in the first team. With United having so many attacking options, especially with Bruno Fernandes becoming a talisman in the attacking midfield role, Mata’s playing time understandably decreased.
For over 1,000 minutes, in fact, but he was still a fairly regular presence with 18 appearances throughout the season and half of them in the Premier League. He started on the last day of the season against Wolves and scored what turned out to be the winner from the penalty spot.
A winning goal in his last home appearance, before being replaced by a rising creative midfielder who would love to follow in his footsteps at Hannibal, would have been a fitting send-off for a player who is held in such high esteem by the Old Man. Faithful Trafford.
His shot from above at Anfield stands out as the moment United fans will always look back on when they think of the glitter-fingered artist, but with 51 goals, 48 assists and countless moments that cannot be quantified with statistics, he has there have been many. many pieces of magic over the years.
The £37.1m United spent on Mata was actually a club record at the time, but it seems like a pittance today and every penny has been worth it.
That is why it is a shame that he is ending his tenure at United and more than 10 years in England, so anonymously. With barely a whisper.
He has played just three games this season. A one-minute cameo in the Champions League against Villarreal and 89 minutes in the dead rubber against Young Boys. His only other appearance came in the Carabao Cup defeat to West Ham, in which he played 62 minutes. He has been named to the bench 13 times in the league without coming up once so far.
No wonder as United added Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo to their bulging attacking ranks, as well as Jesse Lingard returning from his loan spell at West Ham and Anthony Elanga progressing into the first team.
There is absolutely no place for Mata and this is not to recommend that he should play more, although surely he can contribute a bit more than just three appearances, right? -That is to say that United should have let him go last summer when he could have gone on top.
Instead, they continued their bizarre management of the team by offering him another 12 months when there was absolutely no reason to do so. The club could have refined the squad, swapped some hefty salaries and allowed him a proper send-off. Instead of this quiet death march.
Mata will no doubt be leaving this summer, just hope he gets a chance to say goodbye.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.