How often do we hear managers admitting they were wrong about a player? With stubbornness a trait that lurks within all 20 Premier League gaffers, less often than Manchester City lose a home game I’d say.
Jose Mourinho hasn’t got to where he is today by being known as a man that changes his mind. You get the feeling he’d rather walk away than confess he’d made any kind of footballing misjudgement.
With that scenario highly unlikely, Juan Mata needs to leave Chelsea. Right now, if he can.
Initially I suspected 'The Happy One’s' decision to axe last season’s Player of the Year from his preferred starting XI was merely muscle flexing.
I saw it as a short-term message to his stars, and the watching world, that he was in charge and that he’d damn well do what he wanted. No one, not even Chelsea’s best player, was an ‘untouchable’ any more.
Now, several months on, and with no sign of a Mata reprieve, it’s clearly far simpler than that. Mourinho just doesn’t rate him. If he did, with precious points at stake each weekend, he’d be playing.
Talk that the Spaniard doesn’t fit into Chelsea’s style under Mourinho is wildly exaggerated. This is a footballer of exemplary character who has never been regarded as lazy or rebellious in his life. It’s not as if he couldn’t adapt to the changes asked of him, just as Eden Hazard has done so spectacularly in recent months.
There’s a school of thought that suggests Mata’s play is too slow for the Portuguese’s liking, but that can only be part of the problem. This is a man who scored 12 and made 12 last season, so most managers would still pick the Spaniard if he was the slowest in the league.
Mata himself might not want to hear it, but the bottom line is Mourinho has more faith in Hazard, Oscar, Willian and quite possibly Andre Schurrle to deliver him success.
Personally I don’t get it, but it’s the manager that always calls the shots.
I’ve seen it time and time again throughout my career in football. Different managers see different things, and when they make their mind up over a player, it’s near on impossible to get them to shift.
During my spell with Stevenage I was often the apple of Paul Fairclough’s eye, a key man who scored and made goals from midfield. Yet when he was replaced by Wayne Turner, he saw someone that was of little or no use to him. Almost right away I became an outcast.
When you’re out of favour, it drives you mad. Self-confidence takes an understandable hit, and it’s puzzling to work out what you’ve done wrong.
At Southend United under Alan Little (whose first signing was a replacement for me!) I was fuelled by frustration and training like a demon, scoring for fun and feeling sharper than ever, but no matter what I did I was never going to be first choice again. Life was miserable.
Mata is in this situation.
Blinded by his own opinion Mourinho, like all managers, is choosing to see what he wants to see, and that means the Spaniard is being afforded far less mistakes, and much less time than Oscar and Hazard.
His errors are magnified, and as a consequence he’s feeling that dreaded hook around his neck earlier than anyone else. In his last three starts he’s lasted no longer than 62, 72 and 53 minutes. In the last two matches, Mata has embarrassingly seen his stock fall to a status of unused sub.
The 25-year-old is way too good to be treated this way. He deserves to play for a manager that appreciates his talents. He has to go.
A move overseas looks most likely with Napoli, Juventus, Inter Milan and Paris St-Germain all sniffing around him. At any of those clubs he’d be a highly influential performer, just as he’s been at Chelsea.
Mourinho’s not for turning.
The sooner Mata realises this and turns his back on Chelsea, the better it will be for his career.
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