Connect in the back of the net

Over the past week it would not have only been the Premier League table that made grim reading for Manchester United fans, but Deloitte’s annual Money League which had the Red Devils positioned outside the top 3 since the list was fist compiled in 96-97.

Despite increasing revenue from £323.7 million to £346.5 million over the past season, the table marks an unwelcome parallel with the domestic table where United also find themselves on a reduced footing, sitting seventh and possibly on course to finish outside of the top four since the Premier League’s inception in 1992.

That news came a day after the Moyes era hit the nadir of a penalty shoot-out defeat to Sunderland in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final, the latest mark of a disappointing season for Manchester United and a month where points have been dropped against Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea to leave them 14 points adrift of Arsenal in top spot, and 6 points off Liverpool who currently occupy the fourth Champions League qualification spot.

With Moyes and the Old Trafford hierarchy already aware of the vast drop in share price that has led to £220 million being wiped off the club’s New York Stock Exchange valuation, it would represent further financial disaster should the club achieve what is beginning to look increasingly possible and finish outside of the top 4 for the first time in 23 years.

Despite the brash insistence from the club’s owners that that scenario wouldn’t be such a blow and Moyes’s own prediction that United wouldn’t be pressed into action in this January transfer window, the club have seen enough from both their off and on-field plight to break their transfer record in order to sign Juan Mata from Chelsea.

The most discernible aspect from the near £40 million deal that dwarves the previous record outlay at Old Trafford, the £30.75 million that signed Dimitar Berbatov from Spurs in 2008, was the timing, breaking on the day of the home tie with Sunderland that talks had progressed and then waiting until after the Stock Exchange closed on the Friday before formally announcing the deal.

It is a deal intended to lift a club badly in need of a spark and a message of intent from the club’s ruling Glazer family, faced with accusations that their crippling debts had compromised any chance of buying from the very top group of talent, that Manchester United still possessed the attraction and financial muscle to compete at the highest end of the market.

The Spaniard will no doubt galvanise a forward line desperately in need of added invention and variety, suffering not only from the injuries of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie but a drop in scoring rate from 2.26 goals per game last season to 1.64 this time around.

Mata, who assisted 28 goals and scored 32 during his two full-years at Chelsea, creating a chance every 28 minutes as he was named player of the season at Stamford Bridge for consecutive seasons, will form an enticing partnership with Rooney, Van Persie and the emerging Adnan Januzaj.

It could be the signing, with Mata ineligible for the rest of this season’s Champions League, that packs the required imagination and fire-power to thrust United back into the top four before the curtain draws on a difficult inaugural season for Moyes.

In selling Mata to almost universal surprise and a degree of anger within the Chelsea support, Jose Mourinho has again reiterated his position as the consummate pragmatist, drawing from 13 appearances across 832 minutes of football enough to conclude that the 25 year old is no longer required among the wealth of attacking midfield talent at the Portuguese’s disposal.

He saw in Mata not the huge amount of sentiment that surrounds him but a player unwilling to sufficiently sacrifice his attacking instincts in favour of a system that prioritises control and substance and so saw fit to grant the player his wishes, in a World Cup year, and relinquish the Spanish international to a side willing to find him first-team football, in the process making a sizeable profit on the £23.5 million paid to Valencia back in 2011.

It is a sale, again from a Chelsea perspective, that will please Financial Fair Play investigators as the regulations begin to take hold in the aftermath of the club’s £50 million losses at the end of last year.

Manchester United meanwhile will no doubt cherish the attacking quality and mystique he will bring as Moyes attempts to forge a more organised and diligent unit without losing any of the goal threat that used to brush opposition aside during the Ferguson years.

Maybe with Mata’s usual habit of occupying the central areas even when operating from a side berth, Moyes may have to sacrifice the width that was a cornerstone of the Ferguson years as he looks to utilise his record capture alongside traditional number 10 Wayne Rooney.

However, the main basis behind the signing is not disputed, it was not a surprise to see a delighted David Moyes pointing out his assists and scoring record as he unveiled Mata on Monday, nor was it to hear the Spaniard, as he sat alongside his new manager, saying he is most comfortable when unlocking defences with deft passes in the final third.

Perhaps it would have been more logical from Moyes to address his alarming midfield problem by signing a deeper-lying player in the mould of Yohan Cabaye, with whom they have been linked with a £20 million move, though in Mata they have found a rare combination of proven creative quality complimented with startling humility and have deemed it a deal too good to avert.

It is telling that Ed Woodward, Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman, went to such complex lengths to distantly negotiate with Chelsea, eventually brokering the deal without risking face-to-face negotiations in case the future of Rooney was brought into the equation. Woodward’s role here incidentally will offer plenty of encouragement for further dealings after his part in the disaster of the summer’s failed bids to land Cesc Fabregas and Ander Herrera.

Rooney, it is said, has been enthused by the capture of Mata enough to be drawn into talks over a new contract, a prospect that seemed unlikely only a few months ago. It is an encouraging reaction that is likely to reverberate around Old Trafford as the Moyes revolution, speeded up by the woeful run of form experienced over the past month or so, begins to take apace.

“Hopefully Mata will have a big impact on the rest of the players because they seem flat, they’ve lost their confidence at times; creativity in the final third has been a problem”, said Gary Neville, pundit at Sky Sports and former United captain. The Spaniard will be a massive asset for Moyes as he attempts to solve those issues.

Arsenal have shown with Mesut Ozil what a marquee signing, one not necessarily required, can do for a club beginning to fall against the ropes and United, who had Robin Van Persie to lift them last term, will be hoping Mata can have exactly the same affect on their struggling season, starting with Cardiff City on Tuesday.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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