COMMENTARY I More than simply flirting with mediocrity, Manchester United was on the verge of marrying the middle of the table with David Moyes saying the vows and overseeing proceedings.
Suddenly, a rumor surfaced. Juan Mata was linked to the Red Devils and United finally showed signs of life. With the deal rumored to cost the Red Devils about $60 million, the club with the most Premier League titles in history opened the bank and has made an incredibly positive move in the transfer market.
On the pitch, however, Moyes' United continued to falter and fail. Wednesday's League Cup semifinal defeat to Sunderland was yet another black eye on a face that is covered with more bumps and bruises than a badly beaten boxer after 12 rounds.
Going to penalty kicks against a team deep in the relegation zone was embarrassing enough, but converting one penalty out of five tries was disgustingly poor. Over 180 minutes, Sunderland deserved to get past Manchester United. In the penalty shootout, neither team deserved to go on, but United was the lesser of the two sides.
Even before Wednesday's disappointment, Manchester United required a spark, and Mata may be the perfect man to be the catalyst.
Throughout the day on Wednesday, the League Cup defeat was deservedly overshadowed by news that United had agreed to terms with Chelsea. The gifted Spanish midfielder was considered surplus to Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho's plans.
United finally spent money on a proven Premier League midfielder who possesses the proper quality to change a match (i.e. not Marouane Fellaini).
Even if he did not play an integral role in every competition, Mata was on teams that won the Under-19 European Championships, Under-21 European Championships, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, FA Cup, European Championships and the FIFA World Cup.
At only 25 years of age, Mata likely has his best football ahead of him, but the former Real Madrid youth product's experience is well beyond his age. For whatever reason, the Mourinho and Mata marriage failed from the start, and the Portuguese tactician forcibly froze out the Spaniard.
Mata was an unused substitute in five of Chelsea's last seven matches, including all three spotlight fixtures against Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United. Across all competitions this season, Mourinho only employed Mata from the opening whistle until the final whistle on three occasions, and one of those occasions was a League Cup match.
This is probably the proper time to point out that Mata was Chelsea's Player of the Year two seasons in a row leading up to the current campaign. He was a fan favorite and considered the class of Chelsea's future. When placed alongside his fellow musketeers, Oscar and Eden Hazard, Mata was considered the brightest of the bunch. However, Mourinho never saw it that way.
Ultimately, Chelsea and Mourinho decided they no longer required the Spaniard's services, and Chelsea's trash is United's treasure. Given the transfer price, United gave Chelsea a treasure chest for a player that Mourinho regularly treated like trash.
Still, Chelsea deciding to sell a proven Premier League performer of Mata's quality to Manchester United is blasphemous. To a certain extent, the decision to sell to United is a thinly veiled insult. Chelsea's decision to sell indicates that the Blues do not consider United to be direct rivals. Considering the Blues are in a domestic title race and are in position to play in the Champions League next season, that reality cannot be entirely ignored by the Red Devils.
Case and point, Chelsea made a bid for Wayne Rooney before the close of the summer transfer window, but that bid was viewed as being derisory by United. In United's eyes, it was an unthinkable to sell a quality player to a rival the likes of Chelsea.
Five months later, Chelsea's 3-1 demolition of United proved that the Red Devils were hardly rivals this season. Subsequently, Chelsea did not hesitate to unload Mata to United because Mata's addition to United hardly fixes the leaky defense, injured front line or lack of quality throughout the squad.
Mata finally provides Manchester United with quality worthy of the crest, but he is only the first step on the path to recovery. That path likely requires a season out of the Champions League and more spending. Sooner rather than later, it may even require a new manager.
For now, though, Mata is a good start.
Shahan Ahmed is a Yahoo Contributor in Sports and has covered the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga, and UEFA Champions League for the past four seasons. You can follow Shahan on Twitter @ShahanLA
- Sports & Recreation
- Manchester United
- Juan Mata
- Premier League
- Jose Mourinho
- UEFA Champions League