Manager dismisses Mata’s style and impact.
José Mourinho has continued his mysterious resentment of Juan Mata by warning the Spaniard to change his mentality and adapt to the manager’s style of play, or risk being left out in the cold.
The Portuguese also stated that he considers Oscar as his first-choice number 10 for Chelsea, and will remain as such for the foreseeable future.
Mata has been voted Chelsea’s Player of the Year for two seasons running, yet despite his remarkable and consistent form during this period, Mourinho seemed to take an instant yet subtle dislike to the player; firstly, by making a number of references during pre-season as to how he would be employing a system that would not benefit Mata’s natural game, then, by featuring the player only three time – substituting him twice – before dropping him from the squad completely in the immediate aftermath of his latest, bizarre critique of both the player, and the style of play.
I don’t like the way Chelsea were playing the last couple of years; the club doesn’t like it and we want to change,” he said.
We want to play a different style. The past is history – even my past. I’m here like I’ve just arrived.
Mata’s relative absence since Mourinho returned to manage the club (he played 64 times for the club last season) had previously been explained away by his involvement in the summer’s Confederations Cup and a minor injury he suffered. However these latest comments, aligned with those seemingly innocuous yet slightly suspicious statements in the summer give the impression that there is something more to it. Mourinho continued:
The way I’m reading the situation and the reasons why, in this moment, he’s not playing so much are things I can speak about with him, but not publicly.
Conspiracy theories range from the Portuguese bearing a grudge against Spaniards, after causing many acrimonious relationships in Spain (which doesn’t explain Torres’ continued involvement), being too friendly with ex-boss Rafael Benitez, to resenting the player for allegedly snubbing approaches made for him by Real Madrid.
Either way, as Guardian football writer Rafael Honigstein pointed out recently in a recent podcast, in the absence of any logical, straight-forward explanation, it’s often the most silly sounding which could prove true.
Mourinho continued, and confirmed why he feels it is Oscar, and not Mata, who he sees as the superior playmaker for his Chelsea side.
He [Mata] played against Everton from the start and you can analyse his performance. And he came on against Basel when the team were winning 1-0 – not like Demba Ba or Mikel John Obi, who came on to rescue the game –with specific tasks to do.
It’s part of a process with him, too. It is one thing to play with Ramires and Oscar closing down opponents on each side, and Mata as a No10 behind a striker with his clever assists, clever passes and fantastic actions because he has great talent. But it is another thing to adapt to the way we want to play. In this moment, Oscar is my No10 and, if anyone tells me Oscar has not been Chelsea’s best player this season, I’d have to disagree. I have to prove to the fans that I am good. Now [Mata] must do the same.
So would Mourinho ever be tempted to employ the attacking trident of Oscar, Mata and Eden Hazard behind a single frontman, used regularly last season by Chelsea? Maybe…
But only when [Mata] adapts to what we want.
I’m not ready to ask Oscar to track opposing full-backs. Brazil has more talented players in the No10 position than any other country in the world, and he plays there for the national team, so I want to build with Oscar as my No10. I want the other two players, from the side, to adapt to that reality and learn how to do things they were not ready to do before.
The players are open to some of the changes, and not so open to others because this is more difficult. If I’m a defender I want to play low block, with no space behind me. If I’m an attacking player I’d prefer to play without a position, without certain responsibilities, and with others behind me to cover so I don’t need to worry about [tracking back]. It’s about changing mentality. It takes a bit of time. But it won’t take five, six, seven years. I promise.
Mata will certainly hope not, or the tentative summer interest in him from the likes of PSG, Manchester United and Atletico Madrid, could look more tempting.