Juan Mata is somewhat of a rarity in modern day football, somebody who is as sincere and honest in interviews as he is technically good with a football at his feet.
Manchester United’s No 8 hit the headlines recently when he admitted that footballers’ wages are ridiculously high and that he would gladly take a pay-cut if the game was not so commercialised. This is obviously not enough on its own to get into a Spain squad that is brimming with talent in midfield, but Mata is a player that seems to have no problems with matching his talking off the pitch with performances on it.
Eight goals and seven assists is not one of Mata’s best returns of a season so far, but taking into account the fact that United are 19 goals away from last campaign’s total with just three games left shows that the 28-year-old’s numbers remain quite respectable. Moreover, he has created 48 chances in the Premier League, compared to 50 last time around, hinting at a problem in the finishing of United’s forwards rather than a lack of effectiveness on Mata’s part.
The nadir of the former Valencia and Chelsea player’s season was definitely a first red card in his career at West Brom, which probably cost his side a vital three points. A momentary moment of rashness aside though, the campaign has been a fairly standard one on the whole.
Mata is now one of the more experienced members of La Roja, having participated in the last three international competitions, but the man who started his career at Real Oviedo has never been a starter for his country in these tournaments. This shows us how much quality there is on offer for Vicente del Bosque to choose from, and Mata seems to have a similar problem in a positional sense at club level.
His best role is playing behind the striker as a No 10, but Del Bosque and Louis van Gaal prefer to use him in a position out wide, which can diminish his impact on the game. In the recent FA Cup quarter-final and semi-final, Van Gaal preferred players with more pace in his attack, which left Mata an unused substitute in both games.
This perhaps hints at a certain mistrust in the Spaniard for what were at the time the biggest games in United’s season, and if Del Bosque goes for a system with two strikers or decides to use the more traditional method with three attacking midfielders, an equivalent situation could occur.
If Mata continues to be on the bench for the remainder of the campaign, there is every chance that he is left out for more of an in-form player such as Saul Niguez of Atletico Madrid, who is currently in blistering form.
The Spain Coach is known to be quite conservative in the selection of his players in tournaments, though, so it is likely that this will not happen. Don’t expect him to be a starter however – Mata will have to be satisfied with cameos off the bench once again.