Here’s a strange one: Manchester United attacking midfielder Juan Mata has been linked with a summer switch to Barcelona. The 31-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season, and though Ole Gunnar Solskjær would reportedly like to keep the Spaniard on, Catalan paper SPORT claim he’s wanted by Barça boss Ernesto Valverde.
Mata, unsurprisingly, is said to be keen to move to the much better side, to the extent that he’s rejected all of United’s attempts at tying him down to another deal. He’s said to have other contract offers, though Barça is the one he wants. According to SPORT’s Ramón Fuentes, “the player’s agent was even spotted visiting the club’s official offices.”
The surprising thing about this story is not that Mata would be eager to move to Barça, nor even that he’s considering leaving United: he’s not been able to hold down a consistent first-team place in the last three years, and has made only 16 Premier League starts so far this season. If you’re going to warm the bench, you may as well pick up a few medals along the way. No. What’s surprising is instead that Barça would be interested in signing Mata. He’s the wrong side of 30, notoriously slow, and certainly beneath the standard you’d expect of one of their first-teamers.
But then again, this is a club who’ve signed Paulinho and Kevin-Prince Boateng over the last few seasons; they’re certainly not averse to peculiar signings. He’d be a very good rotation option and would suit their possession-oriented style in a league where physique is clearly second to technique. Add to that his proficiency at a dead-ball, and maybe it’s not all that strange after all.