Juan Mata will have plenty of uses for evolving Manchester United


He’s not a central midfielder, he’s not a centre-back, he’s not a full-back and he’s not a striker. All these positions in Manchester United’s squad still need to be addressed by David Moyes if he ever wants to get into the Champions League.

That doesn’t mean that Juan Mata, though, won’t have his uses for United.

A player that enjoyably skilful and enjoyably be-bearded can never be a bad signing (unless he is Juan Sebastian Veron, who was also called Juan. Coincidence?). His experience and abilities mean that he can be used in a few ways that should benefit the club.

So far Adnan Januzaj has shown calm and technical competence that stands out objectively, and also subjectively because of his young age.

Few 18-year-olds are so disarmingly composed on the ball, even if he often doesn’t make the right decision and betrays elements of selfishness. All this means he cannot be trusted as a number 10, and so far he has been most impressive on the left wing.

Shinji Kagawa has almost been the reverse.

He is plainly superior in the middle of the attack rather than shunted to the left, but it can’t be denied that wherever he has played he has failed to adapt to either the wing or England as well as one might reasonably have expected.

It’s true that United do not pay to his strengths as Dortmund did - at pace, on the counter-attack and without Ashley Young and Michael Carrick holding them back - but at this point it doesn’t matter anymore. The most constructive thing for player and club is probably to return him to Dortmund in the near future.

Wayne Rooney appears to be signing a new contract.

That might be a spectacular waste of £300,000 a week by Manchester United, given Rooney looks unlikely to ever stop being objectionable, and because he hardly seems capable of keeping his body together into his thirties.

It does mean, though, that United have a striker of quality for the future, despite his woeful first touch and diminishing returns in terms of his ability to do something unexpected.

He should have been Pele, he ended up as just a striker. However, with Robin van Persie evermore moody, it makes sense to keep him if possible. It does mean, though, that Rooney could see himself play up front more than he would as a number 10.

All that means that Mata is a sensible, if not vital purchase.

He offers the quality to be more than Rooney’s equal when supporting a striker. He has the experience that Januzaj is yet to acquire. He has the proven Premier League track record that Kagawa may not earn the opportunity to accumulate. There is an obvious position for him to occupy, supporting the striker or strikers.

But right now, with Van Persie and Rooney likely to return in the near future, if not imminently, and Januzaj capable of occupying one of the wings, he offers other options.

Antonio Valencia, Nani and Young no longer deserve to start any matches for Manchester United. They are all obsolete on their own terms, with no reason to believe they can become relevant once more.

There might be defensive concerns, and Mata does not play  as consistently near to the touchline as the others might do, but he is probably a far more effective option as a wide player. It might dent his creative abilities to leave him so wide, but it provides a balance for United, from left to right, with Januzaj, Rooney and Mata, that excites where other permutations haven’t.

There’s one more possibility that applies to the short and longer term.

There are rumours that Manchester United will look to buy Yohan Cabaye this transfer window, if not other central midfielders. That’s clearly necessary as Carrick is injured - and possibly fading - and Marouane Fellaini has yet to adjust, assuming he ever will. Darren Fletcher is back from serious illness and Tom Cleverley is still Tom Cleverley.

Anderson might still offer more for United while playing for Fiorentina than Cleverley ever can, and Phil Jones looks more like a central defender every time he plays anywhere else.

Right now, it might make sense to use Mata in midfield, to offer mobility and penetration. In the long-term, as Mata ages, it might be his natural position. It’s a stop-gap for now but, like using him wide, it might be the appropriate choice for the moment.

Nothing about Mata means that Manchester United don’t need two central midfielders, two wingers, two full-backs and a senior centre-back, but it does mean that United might be able to skirt the issue a little longer and make a desperate, if vain, attempt at the Champions League places.

In future though, if those purchases are made, Mata could still be United’s most important player on the pitch.