It is a reflection of the embarrassment of riches at Spain Coach Vicente Del Bosque’s disposal that Juan Mata’s inclusion in La Roja’s 23-man World Cup squad is even up for debate, let alone doubtful. Granted, the 26-year-old is hardly coming off the back of a stellar season, having first been frozen out of the Chelsea first team picture by Jose Mourinho and then being unable to turn around Manchester United’s poor campaign after his move to Old Trafford in January.
However, there are obvious mitigating circumstances that can explain his year of frustration. Quite what Mata did at Stamford Bridge to convince Mourinho so emphatically that he could be of no service to him remains anybody’s guess, particularly when considering how useful he may have proven as the Blues routinely struggled to unlock stubborn opposition defences throughout the season.
Upon arrival at the Red Devils, he went into a team bereft of confidence and struggling to respond to the methods of manager David Moyes. While he established himself as a regular starter almost immediately, he was regularly deployed out wide by the Scot as opposed to in the middle, where he himself admits he is better placed to influence proceedings. Despite a late season of flurry of sorts that saw him finish with a respectable six goals in 15 United appearances, it is difficult to argue he made a compelling enough case for a ticket to Brazil.
Of course, it could be said that he has more than enough credit in the bank to be selected regardless. Mata’s 12 months of relative stagnation have hardly all been the making of his own doing after all, while the fact he won Chelsea’s player of the year award twice in succession prior to Mourinho’s arrival shows the mercurial quality and consistency he is capable of. He also played a part, though not key, in Spain’s World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 triumphs.
In any normal situation, Mata’s up and down season this time around would not be enough for his place in the squad to come under serious doubt. However, to discuss La Roja is to discuss one of the greatest, if not the greatest, international teams of all time. When considering the fact that the likes of Cristian Tello, Ander Herrera and Borja Valero did not even make Del Bosque’s provisional 30, it is clear that an exceptionally high standard is required to even be on the fringes of selection.
With Del Bosque, as ever, spoilt for choice with his midfield and attacking options, there will inevitably be more high profile casualties when he makes the final cull of his party to 23. Tiago Alcantara has already been ruled out and Diego Costa’s condition is still unclear, but if Mata is to be on the plane he will probably still need his Coach to afford him some reputation-based loyalty.