In Depth

Juan Mata: new Cantona, panic buy or Rooney replacement?

Manchester United have made a statement, but it raises as many questions as it answers

IS JUAN MATA the man to rescue Manchester United's season and save David Moyes's reputation? The Spanish creative midfielder is set to become United's record signing this week when he moves from Chelsea in a deal said to be worth £37m.

There will be pressure on both men's shoulders when the deal is complete. Moyes has pinned his hopes on the player and Mata must now provide the spark to turn round United's season.

But there are plenty of unanswered questions about the move.

Why do they need him?

His arrival is designed to lift the gloom around Old Trafford, says Tony Cascarino in The Times. "Sometimes, teams need a lift, and the best way of delivering that is by sending out a message in the transfer market," he says. But the question is "whether it is more of a psychological signing than a footballing one". Arsenal managed a similar trick with Mesut Ozil in the summer, says Paul Wilson in The Guardian, but he made an instant impact on the field. Can Mata do the same?

So, is it a panic buy?

"The club have bought him because he is available, not because he is a player Moyes has always rated or coveted," claims Wilson in the Guardian. Phil McNulty of the BBC is inclined to agree, and says some at Old Trafford believe the deal smacks of fear. After all, last summer United wanted a left-back, a centre back and and a midfield general, not a playmaker. "Panic is too strong a word but there is certainly surprise at the speed of United's move and the position they have decided is the priority for such heavy spending," says McNulty.

Why have Chelsea sold him?

Jose Mourinho has been as calculating as ever says Guillem Balague in the Daily Telegraph. His "strategy" has been to sell Mata "to another club that he believes to be out of the title race and who will play Chelsea's rivals. Should fate draw the two clubs against each other in the Champions League, the only other tournament they can meet in this season, Mata will be cup-tied."

Where will he play?

This is the crux of the issue. United have plenty of competition for the role Mata prefers, behind the strikers. Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj can all play there. However, Januzaj is only a teenager and, as Wilson in the Guardian points out, "Rooney is becoming restless and Kagawa has generally been disappointing since arriving in England". According to Balague in the Telegraph, "Moyes wants to play him as ten, 11 or seven, just about anywhere in the attacking midfield, and as such [he] will remove a lot of the burden placed on Wayne Rooney, on whom United are far too dependent."

Will it destabilise United?

The rest of the United midfield may be wondering why he is needed. "If [Marouane] Fellaini is now wondering where he stands in the pecking order, he joins a list that includes Kagawa, Ashley Young, Nani and Antonio Valencia," argues Wilson.

Is he the new Cantona?

In some ways he is not dissimilar to Cantona, but the problem is with United. "Mata is the sort of player you add to an almost complete side, who are just seeking that extra source of inspiration, that player who can add something different to an already potent mix," explains Cascarino in the Times. Oliver Kay, also in the Times, says the Mata can have the same "creative impact" as Cantona but "to expect him to bring the same type of psychological uplift is to underestimate the depths to which United have sunk in 2014". Comparisons with the mighty Cantona, along with a £37m price tag amount to "a great deal of pressure on a single player," says Wilson of the Guardian.

Or a replacement for Rooney?

Manchester United fans will not be happy to hear Balague's final assessment in the Telegraph. Yes, Mata and Rooney will form a decisive partnership this season but will the partnership last? "Rooney is at his most dangerous when concentrated on what he does best instead of appearing everywhere as he has been doing this season. The arrival of Mata means that the striker can have an ally when he decides to pass the ball around and United have the perfect replacement if and when Chelsea come back calling with another offer for him."

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