His whole managerial career could possibly be summed up in three key phrases: media controversy, football tactics and win-at-all-costs spirit.
Unsurprisingly, this is a group of words that could accurately narrate Jose Mourinho’s relationship with Juan Mata.
Mourinho never tried to hide behind his words. He would fight hard to defy his critics, by implementing his tactics into the pitch at any price.
When he arrived at Chelsea, after a troublesome tenure at the Bernabeu, Roman Abramovich assigned him with taking the Blues back to the Premier League throne.
Mourinho’s tactical plan was clear from the beginning. He wanted to produce a concrete squad, with a die-hard mentality and a rather defensive approach which would act as a Molon Labe guard between the 11 players on the pitch and Chelsea’s goalpost.
Shockingly – for everyone but him – the club’s back-to-back Player Of The Year would not play any significant part in his plans.
Amid controversy, Mata was shipped off to Manchester United for a £37.1 million fee and Mourinho went on to fulfill his task the following season, capturing the Premier League trophy.
Meanwhile, the Spaniard was introduced to United’s struggling post-Ferguson era. With David Moyes failing to justify the ‘successor’ title and Louis van Gaal falling short of the club’s high-pressure demands, Mata fought hard to regain his descending prestige.
Four months after his arrival in Manchester, a visit to Everton’s Goodison Park marked United’s 11th defeat in that season, as well as Moyes’ departure from Old Trafford.
Some hours after the defeat – and hours before Moyes’ dismissal – Mata could not hide his emotions.
He turned on his laptop and started writing his personal blog:
“I do know that you may win or lose, that this is sports and it’s part of the game. But I hate this feeling,” he wrote.
“I feel very disappointed today. This is how you feel when you spend two weeks waiting for a game, getting ready for it, and then things don’t go the way you wanted.”
Although the 454 words that were typed summed up his feelings in a rather straightforward manner, the headline of the piece is what spoke his mind at that very moment.
“Falling down is allowed, getting back up is mandatory.”
A common cliché, many might argue, but for him it was a strong statement.
Under Moyes, Mata scored three goals and provided his team mates with five assists.
By the end of the 2015-16 season, he had already managed to notch 29 goals and 20 assists in 108 games for the Red Devils.
His numbers placed him among the best playmakers in the Premier League and keeping in mind United’s struggling form throughout van Gaal’s tenure, these stats prove his influence in the club’s matches.
Back in October 2015, when he was asked to comment on his exceptional form, Mata mentioned that “the stats don’t lie”.
“I’ve scored as many goals for Manchester United in the Premier League as for Chelsea, but in something like 30 games less,” he told the Times.
“In terms of scoring and assisting I’m quite happy with the stats, and stats don’t lie. They are facts.”
In the same interview, Mata tried hit back at Mourinho for labelling him as “luxury” player.
“If a luxury player is a player who scores and assists and has good stats, then I’m happy to be a luxury player.”
These comments, along with the whole controversy behind his relationship with the Portuguese manager, promised an uncertain future for the Spaniard when Mourinho signed for United.
Although ‘Mou’ dismissed the rumors linking Mata to a sale, his decision to replace him half an hour after entering the Community Shield game against Leicester, sparked further controversy.
BBC pundit Danny Murphy immediately criticised Mourinho’s move.
“You don’t do that unless you are trying to send a message.
“They have a lot of history at Chelsea and he has embarrassed him in front of his supporters and his family.
“He is basically saying to him you are not important and he has done it publicly. I can’t see him still being at the club at the end of August.”
Used to media criticism throughout his career, the Mourinho responded in football terms.
“I knew it would end with long balls, throw-ins, so I don’t pick Ibrahimovic or Fellaini for sure. Mata is the smallest one.”
“We want to win and everybody is happy in the end.”
Once again, Mourinho highlighted his priority.
The team’s target is to win at all costs and that is the reason Mata has featured in United’s lineup in seven of 10 games (plus one off the bench) since the Community Shield.
According to Squawka, in these matches, he completed seven key passes and, more importantly, one assist and two goals.
Although Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan stole the show during the transfer season, Mourinho knew he could count on Mata’s hard-working mentality.
“My idea for football with the squad and objectives we had at Chelsea is one thing, and the squad I have at Man United and the profile and what I try to do with this club is a completely different situation.
“So Juan at Chelsea in my project was one player, and Juan in my project at Man United is another thing.”
His explanation might be too simple to digest, but this is the raw truth.
The Chelsea project was quite the opposite from the one he is trying to build at United and Mata seems to perfectly fit the plan.
In his aforementioned blog post after the Everton game, Mata indicated a feeling that he shares with Mourinho – he hates to lose.
This was the reason Mourinho replaced him with Rooney against Stoke and if Alex Grant did not manufacture a man of the match performance, United would achieved their objective.
As the Portuguese stated in his post-match interview, however, “that’s football”.
Replace this phrase with the word “controversy” and the explanation about Mourinho’s relationship with Mata becomes quite simple – as simple as football is for them.