Desmond Kane

Mourinho’s failure to warm to Mata could yet cost Chelsea title

Desmond Kane

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It is only a week or so since Jose Mourinho was busy telling the world about how Rafael Benitez destroyed the self-esteem of the Chelsea captain John Terry with his rotation policy. If such a scenario is possible.

“Yes, I had to remind him of his importance to the club when I came in because his self-esteem was a bit affected in relation to last season," said Mourinho. "He was a little affected, feeling in a quiet way pain over the doubts about him.”

It is quite ironic that Mourinho has bemoaned his old nemesis Benitez’s treatment of his captain yet has somehow managed to have a similar effect on the club’s outstanding player over the past few years.

When Chelsea opted to make their first change of the day around the hour-mark against a game Crystal Palace side yesterday, it was hardly surprising to see Mata’s No. 10 come up on 62 minutes with Chelsea clinging grimly to a 2-1 lead they almost dropped.

Mata had been far from deserving of such treatment, but Mourinho wanted to add Oscar to the mix.

Mourinho and Juan Mata literally do not see eye to eye. As a slightly bemused Mata headed for the technical area, Mourinho did not bother casting a glance towards the attacking midfielder. Could you imagine Terry or Frank Lampard being subjected to such treatment?

It is hardly nonsensical to suggest Mata does not really fit into Mourinho’s strategy.

He inherited Mata, but has apparently been forced to try to accommodate him because the player is so popular with the Chelsea supporters.

Mourinho would seemingly prefer to opt for Eden Hazard, Ramires, Willian or Michael Essien than stick with Mata. Yesterday he did.

The attitude towards Mata is baffling.

Here is a figure who has been the club’s player of the year over the past two seasons. Here is a performer who was a key strand of Chelsea’s success in winning the Champions League 18 months ago and the Europa League earlier this year.

He has made 16 appearances this season, including one for Spain, but it must be difficult for Mata when he realises that he is not really the manager's cup of tea. That must have an adverse effect on the self-belief. Whatever is said to the contrary.

Mata made 140 appearances for club and country over the previous two seasons, but is unlikely to come anywhere near such a lofty total this season. What is worrying for Mata is that we are on the cusp of a World Cup year.

Mourinho continues to remind the public that Chelsea are in a “transitional" period. This translates as a manager wanting to get his own men in, and other managers’s men out. Signed by Andre Villas-Boas from Valencia for £23.5 million in 2011, Mata seems to be living on borrowed time at Stamford Bridge.

It is also ironic that Mata was flavour of the season with AVB and Benitez, two coaches 'The Special One' does not find very special.

The subject of ‘what to do with Juan?’ has irked Mourinho at various junctures since he returned to London. He does not like the question. A few weeks ago, Mourinho suggested Mata would stand a better chance if he was allowed to pick "12, 13 or 14" players to start. Perhaps the answer is to set the player free.

Suggestions of flogging Mata to Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain in January might be unthinkable while the Champions League remains a valid option, but surely some business could be done.

Mourinho was never a committed fan of Arjen Robben during his three years at Stamford Bridge. And look how he has flourished at Bayern Munich via Real Madrid.

Mata would be able to play for any side in Europe. He has nothing to prove to Mourinho even if he apparently does not fit the Portuguese martinet’s demand for indulging in work practices not really synonymous with Mata’s offensive instincts.

Chelsea have somehow staggered to second place in the table on what feels more like sheer bloody-mindedness rather than any any sense of unswerving consistency.

They frequently appear nervous when trying to defend set-pieces, but their recognised forwards’s returns are equally mediocre. Fernando Torres scored only his second goal in the Premier League this season against Palace. Demba Ba replaced him with his one league goal. Samuel Eto'o was an unused substitute with two league goals.

And yet for all the concerns, Chelsea could be top of the standings on Christmas Day if they win against Arsenal at the Emirates a week tomorrow.

As long as Mourinho's side are sitting pretty at the top of the table, he can probably justify his selection, non-selection or subbing of Mata.

Mata showed one genuine moment of ingenuity yesterday as a backheel sent Branislav Ivanovic speeding in on goal for a shot that flew wide.

The concern for Chelsea's fans is that you cannot really lose a player of Mata's creative excellence from a side, and not feel the pinch in the longer term.

Our resident columnist Paul Parker, the former Manchester United, Chelsea and England defender, suggested a few weeks ago Mourinho is bad news for the London club.

“The Juan Mata situation is embarrassing,” opined Parker. "Oscar is not as good as Mata. He is not a No. 10. He needs Mata to make things happen for himself.

“Mourinho has nullified some great players. He is not allowing players to play in the fashion they were brought to the club for.

"Look at Arjen Robben and Joe Cole under Mourinho at Chelsea. Joe Cole never recovered from playing under Mourinho at Chelsea. He lost all his confidence.”

On his way past his manager yesterday, Mata had every right to lose confidence.

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