Juan Mata cut his teeth at the Real Madrid youth set up. Showing glimpses of talent that would later endear him to a wide fan base, it was no wonder he was scouted by top teams from Europe. He joined Valencia and formed a part of the famed trio comprising of David Villa, David Silva and himself. He swiftly built a reputation for superb attacking play at Valencia, either on the wings or behind the striker. Speed, acceleration, creativity and flair are some adjectives that defined his game play during his game play at Valencia.
Chelsea signed him for 24 m pounds at the start of 2011-12 season. This was after his name was linked repeatedly to Arsenal. Fernando Torres seemed to be the reason behind his signing. Torres had failed to live up to his big money signing and Mata would be the ideal foil, threading balls for Torres to latch onto and score. Besides, Chelsea are not considered to be a side that plays attractive football, something the owner craves so much. The prospect was tantalizing.
But playing in the English Premier League comes with its own pressures. Questions were raised about his ability to adjust to the physical demands that the Premier League presents. I think his country man and fellow Valencia forward Silva had already proved this wrong. Silva has consistently been the heart beat of the Manchester City side and is considered by many to be a player of absolute class. Mata hope he would be considered in the same breath, come the end of the season.
Here we are, at the fag end of this season and how well has Mata performed. 12 goals and 13 assists to his name are enough to justify the price tag. But his consistency has won many of us over. Sometimes playing behind Drogba and on the left flank at other times, he has struck an instant partnership with Drogba. Torres for the most part has also benefited from Mata's ingenuity.
As Chelsea look to end this season on a high, Mata could indeed be the man to get them home. Bayern Munich have played some exceptional football to beat Real Madrid to reach the finals. The fact that Munich are playing hosts to the final makes it even harder for the Blues. While the focus has entirely been on how the old guard at Chelsea has hit back at critics and taken Chelsea forward, Mata has been the provider for much of that energy. Another reason why I consider Mata special is the elefance he possesses on the pitch. While Drogba is often associated with brute force and Lampard with pragmatism, Mata is sheer elegance a la Zizou himself.
Finally, Mata has never been in the press for wrong reasons in his time at Chelsea. He seems to be level headed and goes about his business as professionally as one would expect from him. In my view, his humble nature makes him an instant hit with Chelsea fans. Never will you see him disapprove his substitution even though the fans would be obfuscated at his substitution. Such is his character that he should indeed cop his first season in English football by winning the biggest prize, the Champions League.