With all the doom and gloom swallowing Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the last season, you might forget that they are still reigning Premier League champions and the winningest club in the league's history. But with the arrival of David Moyes, all of the club's immediate nightmares have come true.
Uncharacteristic losses have become commonplace as Man United sits seventh in the Premier League table, having already been knocked out of both the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup. The club's stock market valuation has taken a tumble and reports that the club would struggle to sign top players amidst calls for Moyes to be quickly sacked were somehow being taken seriously.
Consumed by negativity Man United needed a big, expensive statement to stem the tide of irrational panic. The club needed someone — preferably a midfielder — with undeniable talent, a reputation for success and an attitude so positive that he could make a child who dropped their ice cream smile. And in Chelsea's out of favor two-time player of the year Juan Mata, Man United found the rare combination of all those features.
Clubs don't usually disclose transfer fees out of a desire for financial confidentiality, but Man United made a point to publicize the fact that they spent a club record £37 million ($61 million) — the fifth highest fee ever paid by an English club — on the Spanish international to dispel the pervasive theories that the club wouldn't spend money and top-priced players wouldn't come. Because this move is as much a PR statement as it is a squad improvement.
It's a club-record fee of £37.1m. Mata: "I am thrilled to be joining. United is the perfect place for me." #mufcmata
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 25, 2014
Like Mesut Ozil's arrival at Arsenal earlier this season, Mata joining Man United has had an immediate and energizing effect. Regardless of whether this one addition can get the club back in contention for the league title, he's already brought back a sense of possibility. Mata, who won the Europa League with Chelsea last year and Champions League two season ago, will bring creativity and scoring chances to a United midfield that has been dire this season.
Making the move even more perfect is the complete lack of controversy in it. Chelsea was overloaded with young midfielders and Mata simply did not fit manager Jose Mourinho's plans, so they were happy to get a giant wad of cash for him, Mata was happy to go elsewhere and increase his playing time in a World Cup year and Man United were happy to quiet all their Negative Normans. Happy, happy, happy.
Always the gentleman, Mata even went so far as to write a touching letter to Chelsea fans on his personal website, exponentially increasing the warm and fuzzies all around. The long, heartfelt message begins:
As you can imagine this is a very important day in my life, and with these lines I would like to express the memories and emotions that come to me as I write. This letter is written from my heart, and first of all I would like to say that I will never forget all the affection given to me by the Chelsea fans. From the very first day until the last. With your support and affection I have grown up as a player and I have had an amazing time both on and off the pitch. I will always feel the gratitude towards you. Always. No words are enough to give back all the things I have received.
And this comes after he spent a frustrating six months quietly enduring reduced playing time under a manager who didn't appreciate his style of play — something lesser players would have thrown a disruptive fit over. How can a person like that not instantly improve morale at Man United? He might not be able to overcome the 14 points currently separating the club from first-place Arsenal in the Premier League table, but he should, at the very least, buy his new manager some time and provide a bit of hope and infectious positivity.
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