Gary Neville knows Manchester United better than any other pundit on TV.
The former United captain spent his entire career with the Red Devils - 20 years in total, including his year as an apprentice - and also grew up supporting the club.
When he speaks about United, therefore, people listen.
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The retired right-back was sceptical when it was announced, back in January 2014, that United were on the verge of signing Juan Mata for £37.1 million from Chelsea.
"Does he fit with what I would call the typical philosophy of Manchester United? I would say no,” Neville said on Monday Night Football, around a week before David Moyes brought the Spaniard to Old Trafford.
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Eight months on and his opinion hadn’t changed.
“Last year they overpaid for two players who I didn’t think fitted in with the philosophy of the club,” Neville said after United drew 1-1 with Sunderland in August 2014, referring to Mata and Marouane Fellaini.
Mata then began to find his feet at United
Mata gradually began to find his feet at Old Trafford, however, and the affable playmaker cemented his status as a fan favourite over the subsequent months.
Despite this, Mata’s future with the 20-time English champions appeared to be over following the appointment of Jose Mourinho as Louis van Gaal’s successor.
Mourinho was the Chelsea manager, of course, who sold the diminutive but talented midfielder to United in the first place.
Nevertheless, Mata got his head down and continued to work hard before finally winning over the Portuguese tactician.
Neville: Mata has proved me wrong
And Neville, following Mata’s goal against Arsenal on Saturday, admits he didn’t see this coming.
"He does score goals, and he does create moments in games. I myself questioned whether he fits the profile of a Manchester United wide player, because that's where he is playing, even if I know he ends up drifting in," Neville told Sky Sports following the 1-1 draw.
"But with the size of the pitch here, the ability to counter attack and have wing play has always been Manchester United's way, so you wondered where he would fit in.
"I have to say that's been one of the surprises out of the first few months in Jose Mourinho's reign. When Mata came off there was a little hug with Mourinho, there seemed to be a level of respect that was not always there when he was at Chelsea, when Mata was ultimately sold.
"He's adapted well, he's played well, and he's always had a good attitude, he's a top player. At the moment he's doing very well. He was the better of the front three on Saturday."
Is Juan Mata currently Manchester United’s best player? Have your say by leaving a comment below.
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