Rafa Benitez left Chelsea on a high at the end of last season. He returned a ‘job done’ report card to Roman Abramovich after delivering Champions League qualification and the Europa League trophy. He took his bonus and left with his head high and his bank manager happy. In the summer, he moved across to Italy and appears to be enjoying his time in Campania having already taken his Napoli team to the summit of Serie A and a thrilling victory over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions league. Now, the rumour is that he may return to Stamford Bridge in the summer to take fellow Spaniard Juan Mata away from Stamford Bridge.
The fate of the little Asturian, player of the season for the last two years at Chelsea, is the itch that the Blues’ fans are just too afraid to scratch as Mourinho has exiled the player to periphery of team. Mourinho has his own way of achieving things, and pre-season rumours hinting that Mata’s modus operandi didn’t fit in with the manager’s required profile appear to have been borne out.
The Portuguese has made it abundantly clear that his preference is for Brazilian tyro Oscar in the ‘number ten’ role and in fairness, his faith has been rewarded with a string of excellent performances. It is less with the gap in ability between Mata and Oscar that the place has been won however, Mourinho feels that that the defensive work that comes as part of the Oscar ‘package’ gives him the edge over the Spaniard. Players having to work without the ball is a basic tenet of a Mourinho team, and this is where he feels Mata is lacking. The challenge has then be laid out to the player to prove to the manager that he can fill this requirement. It’s a situation very similar to that experienced by Joe Cole in Mourinho’s first term at the Bridge. Back then, Cole responded well to the challenge, and became a better player for it. Whether the same will apply for Mata is yet to be shown.
If not, and come January, Mata is still on the edges of the first team squad, it’s likely that there’ll be a number f suitors interested in gaining the Spaniard’s services; one of them is likely to be Rafael Benitez. From Mourinho’s point of view, adapting Mata and turning him into the player he requires will have a double benefit. Not only will he be able to claim an improved output from Mata, and please the fans by putting him back into the team, denying the sale to Benitez, will also offer a measure of satisfaction.