In many ways, Manchester United’s pursuit of Juan Mata seems less of an exercise in addressing the club’s performances on the pitch and more so one intended to aid the club’s seemingly faltering position off it.
While the signing will almost certainly herald some form of upturn in the performances of David Moyes’ side, its benefits will also presumably have a positive effect on the mood in the stands at Old Trafford, from the corporate boxes to the Stretford End.
Although the transfer fee is undoubtedly sizeable, surpassing the previous club record figure by almost £10million, the outlay could yet turn out to be very much an investment-in-kind if Mata delivers on his potential.
That is to say, in many ways the financial risk may well prove to have been worth taking. On one hand, the sheer magnitude of the move in itself will restore the public perception of Manchester United as a stellar force in the transfer market, while on the other, the club will be keenly aware that they could get an immediate return on investment if United retain their Champions League status off the back of Mata's arrival, a feat which prior to this transfer was looking less and less likely by the day.
With Deloitte’s 'Football Rich List' this week ranking United outside the top three most profitable clubs in the world for the first time ever, the powers that be in the Old Trafford boardroom will be keen to address this slide by safeguarding the annual revenue they receive from their participation in Europe’s premier competition.
While it would be stupid to suggest that the former Chelsea man could actually single-handedly turn his new club’s fortunes around in this regard, those at United will be hoping Mata can have the same talismanic effect on the red half of Manchester that Arsenal’s summer recruit, Mesut Ozil, has had on the red half of North London.
In fact, the two transfers are starkly similar across the board, with each involving a zestful, YouTube-friendly superstar whose price-tag tips the scale at a club-record level.
With that being said, it’s worth noting that, last summer, few cited Arsenal as a side in desperate need of a lavish new ‘Number 10’. Santi Cazorla had just set the Emirates alight in his debut season, scooping all the in-house awards.
The primary area that Wenger needed to address was almost universally deemed to be a lacklustre central midfield which, since 2005, had featured a nearly tangible Patrick Vieira-shaped hole.
Rather than bow to the weight of public opinion, the 64-year-old bravely, and some might say stubbornly, stuck with the hand he was dealt in that department, instead plumping for the £42.4million signing of Ozil from Real Madrid.
Although no one questioned the German international's quality, the worry among Arsenal fans was that Wenger had merely lobbed another pristine apple into an already packed orchard of playmakers.
This gamble, however, seems to have been proven to be justified, with Ozil’s fellow midfielders having noticeably upped their game in an apparent bid to match the standard set by their new 'Galactico'.
Aaron Ramsey and the prodigal Mathieu Flamini, for instance, are two who have particularly shone in his company. Moyes, like Wenger, has similarly plumped for style over substance in this sense.
By deciding to place his central midfield and defensive problems on the back-burner, presumably he is hoping that Mata will, a la Ozil, serve as a rising tide to lift all boats around him. With all this in mind, and considering the calibre of the players involved, one would be hard-pressed to label these transfers as ‘panic buys’.
However, and as touched upon above, it’s equally difficult to accept that these signings could have been pursued for solely footballing reasons. At the time of Ozil’s arrival, for example, Arsene Wenger was very much in the eye of the storm following on from a humbling 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa on opening day.
The signing of the former Werder Bremen starlet after that defeat not only sparked a string of resurgent performances, but also stemmed the tide of mutiny that had long since been surging against him both in the media as well as on the terraces.
David Moyes finds himself with that wolf now very much at his own door, and while he may have the backing of the hierarchy at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future, he doesn’t have a CV of past glories like Wenger's to abate the United fans’ frustration.
As such, he has shunned Sir Alex Ferguson’s party line that there’s “no value in January” and splurged an unprecedented sum on a player who has this season amounted to little more than Stamford Bridge’s benchwarmer-in-chief.
Of course, that is a grave disservice to a man who has twice been crowned Chelsea’s Player of the Year, and one who was instrumental when the Blues conquered Europe in 2012, but the fact still remains that Moyes has effectively gone ‘all-in’ on a player who has been deemed wholly surplus to requirements by José Mourinho.
With the futures of his current leading lights, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, still very much up in the air, as well as the failure of his first major signing Marouane Fellaini to hit the ground running, the Mata deal could already prove to be a truly defining one in Moyes' United career.
The Spaniard's arrival will undoubtedly appease the United faithful in the short term, and who knows, they might even toast this transfer on par with Eric Cantona's in years to come, but on that the jury remains very much out.
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