The former Chelsea man is set to depart Manchester United this summer following Jose Mourinho's arrival as the Red Devils' new manager and will not be short of potential suitors
As Juan Mata arrived back at Manchester United’s Carrington training ground on for pre-season training on Wednesday, he would have been forgiven for doing so with more than a little trepidation.
Having spent two-and-a-half seasons at Old Trafford with few dramas to speak of, the appointment of Jose Mourinho as United's new manager looks likely to spell the end of the Spanish playmaker's time with the 20-time English champions. Mourinho made it abundantly clear during his time with Chelsea that Mata did not fit into into his plans and his sale just six months after being named the club’s Player of the Season was greeted with great surprise.
The fact that Mata has struggled to consistently produce his best form for United since his arrival in January 2014 would suggest Mourinho was right in selling him on, though the tactical decisions of both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal left a lot to desired in terms of getting the best out of such a talent. Farmed out to the right-hand side of an attacking midfield trio far too often, it is little wonder his stock has dropped rather than risen.
With Mourinho back in charge of his destiny, there is a growing feeling around United that Mata will not be at the club by the time they travel to the Vitality Stadium for their Premier League opener against Bournemouth on August 14. Zlatan Ibrahimovic let slip that he may be wearing Mata’s No.8 shirt during his unveiling as Mourinho's second signing, while the arrival of Henrikh Mkhitaryan heightens the competition to play in the hole behind a central striker. Mourinho's fondness of "specialists" means it is unlikely Mata will be asked to continue to play out of position in a wide role.
So where next for the 28-year-old? He is unlikely to be short of suitors given his natural talent and while he may not be Mourinho’s kind of player, he remains a dream signing for many coaches across Europe. Whether he is still seen as a viable option by clubs the size of United and Chelsea is unlikely given his failure to hit the heights of his early years at Stamford Bridge, but he should not be short of offers.
Juventus are the biggest club to have been linked with the Spain international, though the arrival of Miralem Pjanic could end their search for the creativity Massimiliano Allegri required last term. A replacement for Paul Pogba may yet need to be sought, but Mata is not the same kind of player as the France star.
Mata's former club Valencia represent a more realistic option but they will need to tempt him back to Spain while he still has a point to prove in England and their lack of European football may also prove a hurdle too large to overcome.
In all likelihood, Mata will remain in the Premier League, with Everton looking his most likely destination. Reports in Spain have continually linked him with the Toffees since Ronald Koeman's arrival on Merseyside and, with a small fortune now available to spend at Goodison Park following Farhad Moshiri’s takeover, Mata is no longer out of their reach.
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They, like Valencia, also currently lack European football but with a talented young squad and the Premier League in a more unpredictable state than ever before there is a feeling that Koeman can lift the club to new heights. The Dutchman told reporters a deal was "possible" and making him the poster boy for the new revolution at Stanley Park could be used to lure him down the M62 from Manchester.
The potential arrival of Mata has only served to further galvanise a fanbase desperate for any kind of success after over two decades without a trophy. His signing would act as the kind of power move needed to convince the rest of the footballing fraternity that Everton are a club to be taken seriously again and he could not only help to persuade Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley to stay but also coax the best out of them.
Some would argue he would also be able to provide Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford with the kind of service they will require to fire United back to the top of the table but Mourinho demands more from his players, no matter how good they are technically. Mata can still be a key component in a Premier League success story, but it is highly unlikely to be at Old Trafford. The race is on to find him a new home