Juan Mata endured the ignominy of being substituted in Manchester United’s 2-1 Community Shield win over Leicester since he was the smallest player, according to his manager Jose Mourinho, as reported by the BBC.
Mata controversially substituted
Despite only sending Mata on in the place of goal scorer Jesse Lingard in the 63rd minute, Mourinho then replaced the Spanish playmaker with Henrikh Mkhitaryan ten minutes after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 83rd minute winner.
Subsequently Mourinho’s justification behind the decision to substitute Mata related to the former Valencia player’s lack of height.
“I needed to take off the smallest player because we were expecting a lot of long balls,” said Mourinho, whose attempt to console Mata after withdrawing him from the field was met with a distressed and upset reaction.
Although the incident did not detract from a morale boosting win for United, it did conspire to further damage the relationship between Mata and Mourinho, which was already fractured.
Mata’s future unclear
Whilst manager of Chelsea in January 2014, Mourinho sanctioned the sale of Mata to United for £37.1m, due to purely football based reasons. In addition to having reservations over Mata’s pace and work rate, Mourinho was also concerned about the Spanish internationalist’s tactical suitability to play in his preferred system.
Therefore Mourinho’s appointment as Manchester United manager at the end of May immediately cast Mata’s future at the club into doubt. So too did the arrival of Mkhitaryan from Borussia Dortmund for £26.3m, since Mourinho signed Armenia’s international captain with a view to deploying him in Mata’s favoured central playmaking decision.
Nevertheless the potential for Mata to feature in Mourinho’s plans for the forthcoming season grew since the 28-year-old midfielder played in all four of United’s pre – season games with Wigan, Dortmund, Galastasary – against whom he scored – and Everton. In doing so Mata, who has played 104 games and scored 26 goals for United, played extremely well to enhance the possibility of him continuing his career with the club.
However both the player’s desire to and prospects of, doing that may now have now been diminished as a result of Mata being controversially substituted by Mourinho in the Community Shield, which acted to create another chapter in the pair’s fractured relationship.
Potential exists for Mata to remain with United
Over the course of the last two-and-a-half seasons since joining United, Mata has been one of the club’s most consistent performer’s and played a key, goal scoring role in last season’s 2-1 FA Cup Final win over Crystal Palace.
Despite that he was not included in Spain’s Euro 2016 squad and will have to work extremely hard to earn an international recall from La Roja’s new manager Julen Lopetegui for the upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Ultimately in order to do that, a pre-requisite for Mata is to play regular first team football which may dictate that he moves away from Old Trafford. Whether or not Mourinho allows that to happen remains unclear particularly since the former Chelsea boss, who has also managed Benfica, Uniao Leiria and Porto in his homeland, as well as Inter Milan and Real Madrid, praised Mata’s Community Shield performance.
“I think he played very well. He gave me exactly what I needed,” said Mourinho of Mata, who at 5ft 7in is the smallest player in United’s squad, which are now in the process of preparing for the club’s first competitive game of the season away to Bournemouth on 14 August.
United lost last season’s corresponding fixture 2-1, with Mata playing the entirety of that game, whilst him doing so again this time around seeming unlikely.