On the one hand, Jose Mourinho gets rid of a player who really doesn’t fit into his system at Chelsea. Mata has been the one source of significant tension on the bench and in the stands, given the player’s magnificent performances in prior seasons. On the other, Mourinho and Abramovich both save face by the size of the fee that was paid by Manchester United (37 million pounds Stirling), which also helps to cover the enormous revenue losses Chelsea have incurred in the last two years.
But the really brilliant play comes when you consider the impact of Mata’s transfer on the league as a whole. Chelsea have already played Manchester United twice and taken points from them both times. United are out of the FA Cup and Mata would be cup-tied in the Champions League; he can do no further damage to Chelsea. What he can do, however, is take points from Chelsea’s title rivals: United still play Manchester City at Old Trafford and Arsenal at the Emirates. Given how tight the title race is this year, Mata is basically an upgraded version of “The Manchurian Lukaku” – a Chelsea sleeper agent (who doesn’t know he’s a sleeper) capable of damaging nobody but Chelsea’s rivals. In the long run, Mourinho is banking on Oscar and Hazard developing enough to compensate for what Mata could give to Manchester United next season. It’s also just a brutal smackdown of United’s title credentials. Mourinho will never in a million years sell a player to a genuine title rival. What he’s essentially saying is “your title chances are so far gone that I will give you our best player from the past two years and not even care.”
It’s Bond Villain-level stuff, and it’s brilliant. It’s equal parts Francis Underwood, Tywin Lannister, The Godfather, and The Sopranos. Football is full of intrigue, but it rarely starts to resemble mob or espionage films. Remind me to NEVER play poker with Jose Mourinho.