Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mata, Chelsea should part ways ASAP

In the best interests of both player and club

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Juan MATA had every right to vent his frustration after being withdrawn shortly after the restart at Southampton on New Year's Day.

A fringe player at Chelsea since the return of Jose Mourinho -- and this after twice being named the club's Player of the Season -- his removal in favour of Oscar was yet another reminder he remains mostly outside his manager's plans, that his place in the Spain setup just five months before the World Cup is in jeopardy due to a sudden and surprising lack of first-team football.

But he also accomplished very little in his 53 minutes at St. Mary's, and as a result Mourinho might have been irritated as well.

That a constructive relationship between the two has yet to transpire since the re-appointment of the Portuguese is news to no one, and the longer they resist reaching an understanding the bigger the wedge between them, and the styles of football they represent, becomes.

Already supporters and analysts of the club can barely resist taking sides, as if one of the pair enjoys the high ground at the expense of the other.

But the fact of the matter is they're both right.

Mata is right for being upset, for wanting to play more, and Mourinho is right for wanting better, more well-rounded performances out of him.

And the 3-0 win on the south coast was a perfect exhibit for both of them.

Until being substituted, Mata had completed an impressive 93 per cent of his passes and linked well with Eden Hazard in Chelsea's buildup play. But he also stayed mostly in the attacking half of the park and, as a result, touched the ball just 38 times. If his display was one of creativity, it was also one of disorder.

In other words, it didn't at all fit with the standard of football Mourinho is trying to instill in his players.

Oscar, conversely, changed the game upon his introduction.

Although he played 16 fewer minutes than Mata he touched the ball an identical number of times, played a part in goals scored by Fernando Torres and Willian and found the back of the net, himself, with eight minutes left on the clock.

What will have caught Mourinho's eye, however, were his five tackles made on the defensive side of the ball in what was a stellar, all-around showing against capable opposition.

Oscar, in a man, is the prototype for the kind of player Mourinho would prefer to develop during his second tenure at Stamford Bridge, and he has admitted as much.

In a September press conference he stated his desire to "build with Oscar" as his central playmaker and for the midfielders on either side of him to "learn how to do things they were not ready to do before."

And in what was, perhaps, a veiled indictment of Mata, he described the kind of player he hoped to avoid as one who operated "without position, without certain responsibilities and with others (covering defensively)."

But on Friday he also revealed his desire for Mata to stay at Chelsea, telling reporters the Spaniard had trained well since Wednesday and that his door was "always open."

Of course, it would hardly be surprising if the 25-year-old accepted the invitation and proceeded to request a transfer.

In fact, he would be well-advised to do so, particularly with the World Cup fast approaching.

Mata, despite his troubles with Mourinho, is not a bad player. Quite the contrary. As he has proved previously in his career, he can perform at a very high level in a team that accommodates him.

But that team is not Chelsea. Not anymore. And the sooner he and the club can arrange an amicable parting, the sooner both parties can move on to serve their best interests.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 4, 2014 C5

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