Juan Mata exudes class, intelligence and panache – and not just with a ball at his feet. When the Spaniard travelled to the Aon Training Complex on 25 January 2014 to complete his transfer from Chelsea, he arrived by helicopter – a Hollywood-style entrance befitting a player on whom Manchester United spent a club-record fee of £37.1million.
Mata is an influential performer in any of the three main attacking positions across the pitch behind the lead striker – on either flank or in the no.10 role. A world-class creator and consistent goal-getter, he netted 12 times in all competitions in his debut season with Chelsea in 2011/12, before scoring 11 in the league alone in the following campaign.
However, Mata’s game is about more than just attacking from deep to score goals. The Spain international has a sweet left foot, wonderful poise and balance, possesses great vision for a killer pass or wicked cross and is a danger from set-pieces anywhere on the pitch. His creativity sets him apart; only two players in Premier League history boast superior minutes-per-assist ratios, and since Mata arrived in England only Wayne Rooney and David Silva have set up more goals.
So, Old Trafford has a new star, at the prime age of 25, with his best years ahead of him, yet already Mata boasts an impressive career CV and trophy haul. A former Real Madrid ‘B’ youngster, Mata’s breakthrough came at Valencia, where he emerged as one of La Liga’s stand-out performers before Chelsea won the race to sign him.
At Stamford Bridge he produced a string of eye-catching displays – notably against United, enjoying a series of duels with fellow countryman, good friend and Reds goalkeeper David De Gea – and he was voted Chelsea Player of the Year in both full campaigns in west London. These individual awards joined FA Cup, Champions League and Europa League winners’ medals in his collection.
At international level, Mata’s list of honours is even more impressive. He was among Spain’s World Cup and European Championship winners, making one substitute appearance in South Africa 2010 before proving even more influential at Euro 2012 by scoring in the final against Italy. He also captained Spain to European Under-21 Championship glory in 2011 and represented his country at the London 2012 Olympics.
Mata aims to continue that rich run of success at Old Trafford. “At this club I believe you can achieve anything,” he says. “I’m still young and have been lucky to win some trophies, but I want to win a lot more.”
He made a fine start to life with the Reds, scoring six times and laying on four assists in 15 appearances during his first half-season at the Theatre of Dreams. In addition, the Spaniard was named United’s Player of the Month twice, and his free-kick at Newcastle made it onto the shortlist for the club’s Goal of the Season Award. Mata was later on target for his country at the 2014 World Cup, finding the net in a 3-0 triumph over Australia.