One of the shock transfer rumours of the summer so far has seen former Manchester United playmaker Juan Mata linked with a move to Leeds United, with the 34-year-old having recently departed Old Trafford after eight-and-a-half years following the expiry of his contract.
While typically a highly controversial move owing to the intense and historic rivalry between the two clubs, that’s not to suggest that deals between the pair are out of the question, with the likes of Eric Cantona and Alan Smith just two of the names to have traded one side of the divide for the other.
Those moves are often mired in anger and upset, with the selling party – which has tended to be that of Leeds – feeling aggrieved at the loss of a prized asset to their bitter rivals.
It may not be a direct switch in this instance, but if ever there was a player to cross that no man’s land smoothly, it would probably be the diminutive Spaniard, with the much-loved midfielder unlikely to receive any ill-will from those back in Manchester.
As for those at Elland Road, they will be gaining an immensely talented, albeit ageing, force who has that innate knack for conjuring up something out of nothing, with the “special” veteran – as labelled by Liam Canning in the past – possessing that old cliche of a wand of a left boot.
While Mata’s game-time has diminished in recent years – notably making just 12 appearances in all competitions last term – the one-time Chelsea man still has the quality to unpick opposition defences when required.
A player who oozes class both on and off the pitch, the creative “magician” – as he has been described by former team-mate Marcus Rashford – has racked up 630 club career appearances to date, chipping in with 137 goals and 157 assists in that time.
With a wealth of experience to his name, the 2010 World Cup winner could well be ready for one last hoorah with Jesse Marsch’s side, with the Whites no doubt crying out for an additional creative spark following the departure of Raphinha to Barcelona.
Equally, the signing of the 5 foot 7 ace – who was on a reported £135k-per-week contract with the Red Devils – could mirror the previous capture of Elland Road icon and compatriot Pablo Hernandez, who proved to be something of a talisman during his five-year spell at the Yorkshire club.
Signed from Swansea City in 2016, initially on loan, the attacking menace went on to score 35 goals and provide 41 assists in 174 games during his spell in Yorkshire, notably netting a vital winner against his former club to all but seal promotion back to the top-flight in 2020 after a 16-year exile.
That moment alone will always signify the 37-year-old as a club legend, with Hernandez having emerged as a real shining light under Marcelo Bielsa in particular, with the Argentine once stating of his star player that he does things you simply “can’t teach”, such is his rare quality.
That assessment can also be applied to Mata, with the 41-cap midfielder – who played alongside Hernandez at Valencia – potentially able to become the hidden gem for Marsch that his fellow Spaniard was under Bielsa at Leeds.
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