Juan Mata celebrated his birthday this week, turning 32-years-old.
At this age he is one of the exceptions on Manchester United’s books. He is among just three players over 30 currently at the club, along with Nemanja Matic (31) and Odion Ighalo (30).
The decision to extend Mata’s deal was a controversial one last summer, with some arguing it would hold back rising talent Angel Gomes.
You could argue that’s happened. Gomes hasn’t played much, but neither has Mata. It has been Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard blocking the teenager’s path.
Mata’s start to the season wasn’t great. From about December onwards he has kicked on, and become a valuable contributor.
His winning goal over Wolves in the FA Cup showed he is still capable of deciding big matches.
It was really after Bruno Fernandes signed that Mata appeared to spring into life.
The 5-0 win over Club Brugge was one of Mata’s best games for United in recent seasons. He created six chances in the victory and provided an assist.
He also signed off with a goal in the 5-0 win over LASK, and sits on three goals and five assists so far this season.
There is no need right now for United to look to move Mata on. You know what you are getting from him, and he doesn’t expect to be a regular starter.
Mata has rarely started two games in a row this season. It’s only happened twice, in September, and January.
Instead he has been rotated in and out, starting in seven of a possible nine Europa League matches.
The Spaniard provides the squad with balance at a time when United are getting younger.
We don’t expect Mata to play more matches next season than he has done this season. He’s played in 29 games so far, starting 18 of them.
He is the type of player who it is valuable for teams to have. He’s happy to be a contributor, accepting he is no longer the main man.
His tandem with Fernandes showed some real promise as it seemed he may finally have an attacking player on his wavelength. With a long extended rest too, he will be ready when called upon.
He is a player who has given so much to United since he joined in terms of effort, and he’s not had the rewards he may have done in another era.
If Ighalo isn’t signed permanently, and Alexis Sanchez is told to clear off, then Mata will be the only attacking player on the club’s books over 30.
It’s premature to write him off as a spent force. Even at the age of 32 now, Mata’s creativity can still be valuable to United next season.
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