Was giving Juan Mata a new contract the right call?

Photo Credit: 90min.com

On 19th June 2019, Manchester United officially confirmed that Juan Mata had signed a new contract with the club, keeping him at Old Trafford until the summer of 2021. Mata was signed in the January transfer window of 2014 by former manager David Moyes and since then has made 161 Premier League appearances for the Red Devils. Let's take a look at our No.8:

Juan Mata's  Manchester United Record in the Premier League:
2013/14 - 15 apps, 6 goals, 6 assists
2014/15 - 33 apps, 9 goals, 4 assists
2015/16 - 38 apps, 6 goals, 5 assists
2016/17 - 25 apps, 6 goals, 3 assists
2017/18 - 28 apps, 3 goals, 5 assists
2018/19 - 22 apps, 3 goals, 2 assists

2018/19 Premier League Goals + Assists
Goals - Newcastle (H), Fulham (H), Chelsea (H)
Assists - Leicester (H), Fulham (H)
The club have clearly decided that the Spaniard is "Juan that Matas" to them greatly and will not be part of Solskjaer's supposed 'summer clearout' but rather, part of the rebuild. But was this the right decision?

Positives of the New Contract
1) Experience + Attitude 
Juan is now 31 years old and has tallied up 243 total Premier League appearances in his time in England's top division, establishing himself as one of the most experienced players in our current squad. Manchester United have already released 2 other senior players this summer (Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia) so losing Mata in addition to this may have proved to be unwise with the best interests of the whole squad in mind. His attitude and experience alongside his model personality and maturity are all characteristics vital to a successful football dressing room and those which should be valued in an age where immature behaviour from professionals seems to be becoming evermore frequent. He therefore remains a fantastic role model for the younger players in the squad e.g. Rashford, Dalot, Greenwood. In addition, Solskjaer appears to be targeting young players as part of his summer rebuild with Daniel James (21) already signing from Swansea City as well as having strong links with Aaron Wan-Bissaka (21), Matthijs De Ligt (19) and James Maddison (22) amongst others. 

2) Bigger Fish to Fry
Having already lost fan favourite, Ander Herrera, losing Juan Mata before the likes of Marcos Rojo, Alexis Sanchez, Phil Jones, Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young would be ludicrous and one which would upset many more fans should any of the aforementioned players receive any kind of new deal or remain part of the first team plans. With this in mind, in conjunction with the uncertainty currently surrounding players such as Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, releasing Juan Mata at this point in time seems an unnecessary move when there are many other pressing issues to deal with first.

Negatives of the New Contract
1) Stats
Even in his best season with Manchester United, Mata is yet to crack double figures for either goals or assists in the Premier League and his diminishing returns over the last few seasons are shown by the stats presented above. He only managed 3 goals and 2 assists last season in the Premier League and considering he played 1293 minutes, this means that he contributed either a goal or assist every 259 minutes. Although last season was a poor one for many United players, only 5 goals scored or created from a player who starts in either a right midfield or central attacking midfield role is undoubtedly underwhelming. He is not getting any younger and it is evident to anyone who has watched him play recently that he has lost a few yards of pace, although his technical ability is still superb.

2) Ruthlessness
One of the key reasons Pep Guardiola was able to transform Manchester City into consecutive Premier League champions is because his board backed him and acted ruthlessly in the transfer market. Not only spending big money on world class players but also by selling numerous former key players that Guardiola simply did not want as part of his team e.g. Zabaleta, Clichy, Kolarov, Hart, Navas, Nasri and Fernando. Manchester United lack this ruthlessness and it often seems that sentimentality rules over too many transfer decisions. Realistically, if Mata was in the squad at City for Guardiola's arrival, I highly doubt he would still be there. If Manchester United want to begin to even think about challenging City and Liverpool over the next few years, then a completely new approach needs to be taken to selling players as well as signing them.

Conclusion - Was Mata's new contract the right call?
Personally, I believe the answer to the question above can be answered simply by the intended reasoning by the club for the deal. If the idea is to keep him until a minimum of summer 2021, then I think a new contract could be a huge mistake and would perfectly summarise the lack of ruthlessness in the club's transfer dealings and how emotion is often considered above logic when coming to a decision. However, if the plan is to say goodbye to him in a year's time and the contract is securing a paid transfer then I am quite happy with this.

As mentioned, his experience and attitude will be of great value to the younger players and if his role is limited to mainly substitute appearances, then I think keeping him on for one more season is harmless when we have many other Ashley Young shaped issues to resolve first. I also believe it is vital he is utilised as a central attacking midfielder rather than playing from the right as his lack of pace and tendency to come inside has resulted in our right sided attacks becoming a significant weakness, often being completely non-existent.

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