Juan Mata's World Cup hopes revived by Manchester United move
Juan Mata's chances of playing for Spain at the World Cup were slipping away when he was almost unused at Chelsea. A new stint with Manchester United is expected to help him become a mainstay in the Spanish World Cup squad.
While he rotted away on Chelsea's substitutes' bench this season, Juan Mata could see his chances of playing for Spain at the World Cup slip away.
Mata had already been dropped from Spain's squad once this season and with the country blessed with so many playmakers, he was in real danger of being overlooked for the trip to Brazil to defend their title.
That was one of the key reasons why Mata pressed for a move away from Chelsea once Manchester United registered its interest in signing him.
"It was really important," said Mata, who completed his 37.1 million pound (USD 61.2 million) switch to United on Saturday. "The Spain squad is really difficult to get into, there are a lot of players fighting for positions to be in the last 23 going to Brazil.
"I hope this is a great chance for me to keep playing, keep fit and show the manager of the national team I want to be there, I have to be there. I don't know what would have happened if I had stayed at Chelsea."
The likelihood was that Mata would have remained on the bench, playing second fiddle to Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho's preferred attacking trio of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian.
Even Andre Schuerrle was seeing more game time than Mata, whose last match for Chelsea was on Jan. 1 against Southampton - when he was substituted just after halftime and showed his displeasure at being taken off.
At United, however, Mata is sure to play more regularly.
"Now I am here, now the moment is here," Mata said Monday at his official presentation by United. "Now I'm trying to play as much as I can to help the team and if things are good in the final part of the season, the World Cup is going to be closer for me, for sure."
United manager David Moyes is still pinching himself that he managed to lure Mata from Chelsea, where the playmaker wasn't just the club's player of the year for the past two seasons, he was also one of the Premier League's best players.
"I got wind a month or two ago that it could be a possibility," Moyes said, "but I never believed we would pull it off. I have been saying that I didn't think we would get a chance to do much business in January - I didn't think the players we would be interested in would be available. But when we got the sniff that Juan would be available, we went after it right away."
Moyes now has to decide where to play Mata, whose best position is undoubtedly in a central role behind the striker rather than out on the wings. He has big competition at United for the "No. 10 role," though, in Wayne Rooney, who has been United's best player this season.
That's for Moyes to decide. For now, Mata is solely concentrating on making an impact at United and linking up as best he can with Rooney to restore United's fortunes after a demoralizing first half of the season.
"I can't wait to play alongside him," Mata said of Rooney. "For me, he is one of the best players in the history of this country, he is unbelievable."
As well as being the most expensive player in United's history, he is also being seen as the cure to United's current ills. After romping to the Premier League title by 11 points last season, the team is seventh in the standings this campaign - 14 points behind leader Arsenal and six off fourth-place Liverpool.
Mata says he can handle the expectations.
"I like the pressure. I think it is good for a footballer to try and improve when you have pressure and people are expecting big things from you," Mata said. "And I am really looking forward to it, to try my best and help the team and make these amazing fans happy."
At least he will be spared the pressure of wearing the mythical No. 7 shirt at United made famous by George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.
United announced Monday he would be wearing the No. 8 jersey, taking it over from Anderson following the Brazilian's move to Fiorentina this month.