The saving grace

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Shamik Chakrabarty | Updated: Jan 26 2014, 04:43am hrs
Gary Neville was against it. The former Manchester United and England rightback had reservations over Juan Matas arrival at Old Trafford because he felt the 25-year-old Spaniard wouldnt fit into Uniteds playing style and football philosophy. For close to 27 years, under Sir Alex Ferguson, United thrived on width. Neville argued that Matas inclusion might make the shape very narrow.

From George Best to Cristiano Ronaldo, United always loved their wingers and encouraged them to provide more width. But those were the glory days. Now, just seven months into David Moyes rein and theyve become serial losersa side that looks dull and petrified. They need to get back to the winning ways to have their belief back. So the only football philosophy they can stick to at the moment is to win at any cost. Beggars (in terms of skill and quality on the pitch) cant be choosers. So, welcome Mata.

As Neville said, 37 million quid is a lot of money and its a Manchester United club record, surpassing Dimitar Berbatovs 30.75-million arrival in 2008. But given that United doled out 27.5 million for Marouane Fellaini on the deadline day of the summer transfer window, Mata has come cheap.

In his 135 Chelsea appearances, he scored 33 goals, was voted Chelseas Player of the Season for both 2011-12 and 2012-13,

and was also part of Spains 2010 World Cup-winning squad and

the 2012 Euro-winning side. Mata is top-quality.

He, however, fell out of favour at the Bridge after Jose Mourinho returned for a second stint at the start of the season. Mourinho was sceptical about Matas work-rate, and with Eden Hazard and Willian developing beautifully, he decided to keep Mata on the bench. Now, hes pocketing a hefty amount by selling a player, who was surplus to his requirement, to a side he no longer considers a worthy rival. Its a managerial masterstroke by the special one.

The situation at Old Trafford is very different. The defending champions were panic-stricken following their 3-1 loss to Chelsea last Sunday. Sunderland compounded their misery mid-week by winning the League Cup semi-final on penalties. Moyes still insists that United are not in a crisis. But that brave front notwithstanding, he had to go into a make-or-break deal to save his season. United are placed seventh in the Premier League standings, six points off the final Champions League qualification place. Not getting there would be a disaster for the club. So Moyes had to bring in some quality to partially offset the all-round mediocrity. His fate now hinges on how his new marquee signing performs in the next four months.

Moyes was against a radical overhaul of the squad at the start of the season. He didnt go for Mata or Mesut Ozil because he thought he had enough options in Michael Carrick, Adnan Januzaj, Shinji Kagawa, Tom Cleverley and Ryan Giggs. Only the 18-year-old Januzaj has shone bright, while others have faded away. United midfield now appears to be completely bereft of creative options. Mata could be the saving grace.

The question is, what will be his right position Mata is not a central midfielder, hes not a winger. So where will Moyes use him This, however, shouldnt be a problem because a player of Matas class deserves to be allowed to choose his own position; doesnt matter if that forces the manager to change the shape and make the formation a little narrow.

United have to adjust because they do not hold bragging rights. Both Chelsea and Mata are in a win-win situation. The London club paid 23.5 million to sign Mata from Valencia in 2011 and are now making a cool profit of 13.5 million in just little over two years. For the player, hes now assured of sufficient game-time at Old Trafford, which will allow him to present his case to his national team manager in the World Cup year. But will Matas arrival change Uniteds fortunes

Of course, it will give the side a big lift and bring in artistry in an artisan set-up. But to be frank, this is just a cosmetic change because United need complete restructuring. They need a replacement for the irreplaceable Paul Scholes, they need at least one world-class centre-half (both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are past their sell-by dates) and a quality leftback.

United have lost their League title14 points adrift of leaders Arsenalin January. Theyre out of the FA Cup and League Cup as well. Yes, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie will return soon from injuries to strengthen the squad, but United must regain their winning mentality to be successful again.

Far too much ground has been conceded and things have reached almost beyond redemption. Mata arrives like a breath of fresh air, but hes unlikely to save United unless their rivalsLiverpool, Tottenham Hotspurs and Evertonfalter on home stretch.