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The Great Red Debate: Does Juan Mata have a future at United under José Mourinho?

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In this week's edition of The Great Red Debate, Busby Babe writers Ryan Baldi and Jack Sargeant discuss whether Juan Mata has a future at United under new boss José Mourinho.

Manchester United v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Ryan: There has been a wave of optimism among United fans since the appointment of José Mourinho earlier this month. Renewed hope that the self-proclaimed "Special One" will get the club back to winning ways and contesting for major honours, after a drab three years under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.

But one man who may not be so happy to see Mourinho rock up at the AON Training Complex is Juan Mata.

The talented Spaniard was unceremoniously shipped out of Chelsea two-and-a-half years ago, after Mourinho had returned to Stamford Bridge and decided that Mata -- despite having been voted the club's player of the year in each of the two previous seasons -- was incapable of carrying out his tactical instructions, and lacked the engine and work-rate operate within his system.

Mata joined Moyes' United for a then club record fee of £37.1 million, and after a steady couple of years at Old Trafford, he is set to be forced into a reunion with the Portuguese coach.

There has been plenty of speculation about whether Mourinho is prepared to give Mata a chance to prove his worth, or whether he will again be moved on. How do you see it Jack, do you think Mata could yet thrive under Mourinho's rule?

Jack: Actually, yes! Or, maybe not thrive exactly, nor have a long-term future, but I do imagine Mata will have some kind of future at Old Trafford. Of course, a lot depends on the business Mourinho does in the market, and rumours have seen us linked with a variety of players who occupy roles in the attacking midfield band -- Hirving Lozano and André Gomes are the latest that spring to mind.

But Mata is a rare thing at United: an experienced and proven attacker. Take a look at our current squad, and there's maybe only Rooney who also ticks those boxes. Of course, we all know now better than to toe the Alan Hansen "you'll never win anything with kids" line, but it's generally accepted that it's preferable to have some kind of balance between youth and experience. For that reason alone, I envisage Mata spending at least another season at Old Trafford; though that isn't to say he's guaranteed a place in the starting lineup.

Ryan: Since joining the club in January 2014, Mata has provided an impressive number of goals and assists, especially when you consider that he's been playing in a team whose attacking potency has been somewhat diminished.

But I can't help but feel slightly underwhelmed by his time at Old Trafford. At his Chelsea peak, Mata would appear to be running games almost single-handedly, whereas at United he too often seems peripheral.

Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

But I definitely think Mourinho has more pressing squad management issues than whether or not to bin Mata, so perhaps a kind of de facto stay of execusion would provide the Spaniard time to further prove his worth.

Mourinho appears to be about as stubborn as humanly possible, and having made up his mind about Mata once, how open do you think he'll be to reassessing? And politically speaking -- and our José is fond of a bit of politicking -- with Mata's status as a fan favourite, could holding on to the fomer Valencia player be a good way of currying favour with the fans?

Jack: I think it would be very surprising if Mourinho turned up and decided Mata was his dream player. Mourinho's ruthless, counter-attacking style is, I think, slightly exaggerated in the media; though that said, he certainly likes his teams to be quick and powerful. Mata is neither of those things.

But while a full reassessment seems unlikely as a result, there's no reason why Mourinho can't appreciate what Mata does bring to the team. Against sides in the lower end of the table, who sit deep and look to play for the point, it becomes very difficult to play on the break; they force you into keeping the ball and so necessitate a more intricate route through to goal. Occasionally you need a more specialised tool than mere brute force. I think Mata -- though, I agree, hasn't yet realised his full potential at United -- can still be this player. As an option off the bench, he'd be a very good one. Whether Mata would be happy with such a role is another question altogether.

As for the second part of your question, you're certainly right: José loves politicking as much as anyone. But that said, I think that he'd see no need to alter his squad purely to pacify the supporters -- he's already got their support. José's interest in politics is Machiavellian: if it doesn't enhance his chances of personal glory, he's not going to bother. And so if he thinks a better player can be swapped in for Mata, I've got no doubt that he'd do it.

As you say, however, there are certainly more pressing issues to be resolved.

Ryan: As you've just outlined, I think there are far more reasons to hang on to Mata than there are to let him go. Whatever the outcome, if Mata wants to stay, it seems a certainty that he will have to accept a diminished role within the squad.

I guess at that point it then becomes a matter of pride [note - it took all of my will-power to fight the urge to use a pun there]. Mata is still only 28, so in theory he could yet have his best years ahead of him -- particularly as he's a player who has never been especially fast, so slowing down with age should affect him less than others.

It's evident that Mata loves playing for United, and has close relationships with some of his teammates. But do you think, when facing the inner conflict of deciding whether to stay and play for a man you know doesn't appreciate you, with your playing time likely reduced, that his comfort at the club will be enough to keep him around? Or do you think, as a professional, the desire to fight for his place will provide enough motivation?

FC Steaua Bucuresti v Chelsea - UEFA Champions League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Jack: Good question. And I suppose the answer depends on a couple of factors -- or at least two that spring to mind. The first is the man himself, and the second is the attractiveness of any other offers. As you've suggested, Mata seems perfectly happy at United, and appears about as model a pro as it's possible to be. It's hard to envisage him kicking up a fuss under any circumstance.

However, if he's not going to be playing regular football, I'd imagine that it becomes a case of waiting until a sufficiently appealing offer arrives. He's 28 years old now, and realistically this will be his last chance at a big move -- but will any be sufficiently big? Juventus have been linked with him over the last few days, though their imminent capture of Miralem Pjanić makes it a little more unlikely.

It's possible that the only contact will come from sides below United's level -- Everton and West Ham spring to mind -- and it may well be that Mata decides that playing rotation football at United is a more attractive option than dropping down to mid-table (and of course, he'd be right ...).

Ryan: Another factor to consider, and one that perhaps shouldn't be understimated, is how much his omission from Spain's Euro 2016 sqaud will have hurt. He'll undoubtednly want to rekindle his international career, and maybe finding an alternative to United would be his best shot, particularly if he recieves an offer form a Spanish club.

And there's also the possibility that Mata could be used as an attractive makeweight during transfer negotiations -- as rare as such deals are. Say for instance, United are in discussion with Valencia for André Gomes, it would surprise nobody is Mata's name came up.

But ultimately, I think that the best move for Mata is to sit tight, at least until January. By then, he'll have a clearer picture of his role under Mourinho, and if he wants to leave, he'd still be 28 and shouldn't struggle to attract offers.

The same goes for Mourinho and United too.Tthere's no sense making a snap decision; whatever Mata's market value is now, it won't have dipped dramatically come January, so just hold back at see how this whole situation pans out.

Jack: Yep, I think 'wait and see' is the best advice for all parties -- including Mourinho.