By 90Min
May 07, 2019

There have been reports in recent days that Manchester United have offered midfielder Juan Mata a new contract. 

Although he been one of United's better performers in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, it's clear that Mata's best days are behind him. The 31-year-old is known to be one of the nicest men within the game and has never lacked in effort or commitment during at Old Trafford.

But the time has come to move him on. 

The Spaniard has only started 15 league games this season, and at a time where the club are badly in need of overhauling their squad, they appear to be letting sentiment cloud their thinking.

Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

Mata was part of the United side that had one of their worst result in years when they failed to beat bottom-placed, already-relegated Huddersfield Town on Sunday, ensuring that they will not be playing Champions League football next season.

Offering Mata a contract extension is yet another strange decision that is symbolic of the failings of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. Woodward has presided over the worst period of Manchester United's Premier League history with the club finishing outside of the top four in four of the last six seasons. United have never finished outside the top four in the Premier League years under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Mata enjoyed brilliant campaigns in England with Chelsea, where he was named as the club's player of the year for both seasons as well as being named in the PFA Team of the Year in his first season. He fell out of favour under Jose Mourinho and signed for Manchester United in January 2014 for a then club-record fee of £37.1m. 

He experienced the best time of his United career under Louis van Gaal, playing 89 games and scoring 20 goals in all competitions under the Dutchman, including the equalising goal in the 2016 FA Cup final and a stunning scissor-kick goal at Anfield.

After playing in his favoured number 10 position at Chelsea, Mata has predominantly played on the right-wing at United. In recent years his lack of pace and athleticism have meant that he has not been able to play in his preferred role, as his inability to cover ground in the middle of the pitch has made him a luxury player, causing him to be shunted out to the wing. This has also meant that United have often dropped Mata in big games with previous manager Mourinho preferring pace on the flanks.

Whilst Mata could easily have had misgiving about his circumstances in the way that many of his current high-maintenance team-mates might have done, the Spaniard never complained and has got on with his job. He has always had the knack of getting in goalscoring positions, scoring at least 10 goals in all competitions for three consecutive seasons. Two weeks ago he displayed this when he gave Manchester United the lead against Chelsea in what was then a crucial match in the battle for a place in the top four. 

Alex Livesey/GettyImages

However, Mata's lack of pace and athleticism is glaring in the modern game, where many of the top sides implement high-pressing, high energy tactics. For Manchester United to even get close to competing with the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool they need to have attacking players with pace, energy and a strong work-rate off the ball; qualities which Mata does not possess. 

Whilst his experience, knowledge and pleasant nature make him a good squad player who could be a mentor for youngsters, he is one of United's top earners and with the club having a grossly overpaid squad, they need to be ruthless and let the Spaniard leave. Keeping high earners like Mata at the club holds them back in potential contract negotiations with players that are coveted by others top sides, and with the club set for one of their most important transfer windows in years, this is something they can ill afford.

For all of the issues with keeping Mata on the pitch there are also potential problems off it that have surfaced in recent months. Mata's compatriots and close friends at the club, Ander Herrera and David de Gea are also both rumoured to be leaving, with Herrera being linked with a free transfer to PSG while De Gea has also been linked with the French champions. The trio have understandably formed a close bond and there have been reports that they were unhappy with alleged favouritism towards the English players at the club who were given new contracts in recent months.

Losing De Gea would be huge blow for United, but the 28-year-old has seemed distracted in recent weeks, making errors that proved costly as the Red Devils missed out on Champions League qualification. Letting Mata go in addition to his fellow Spaniards may weaken the squad but will ultimately help eliminate the current dressing-room divide that exists within in it.

Mata has forged a great bond with the Manchester United fans and will be remembered fondly. He has shown himself to be one of the most humble and likeable footballers on the planet, leading many charitable causes including an initiative where he pledged to donate1% of his salary to charity Common Goal and encouraged his fellow players to do the same. Through his blog posts and interviews he has shown that he is articulate, intelligent and has the knowledge to undoubtedly be a successful coach in the future. 

However, for all of Mata's great qualities he is no longer at the level required of a player at Manchester United and with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer promising to be ruthless with his squad this summer, the Spaniard must be allowed to leave.

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