London – Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Juan Mata transfer was that at no point did Manchester United and Chelsea engage in talks about the Spaniard.
There was no dialogue between club officials – not even when Chelsea entertained United at Stamford Bridge on January 19. Not once was Mata mentioned as officials dined in the directors’ box.
Instead United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward instructed the club lawyer to send a written transfer offer to Chelsea chairman and lawyer Bruce Buck last Thursday. Chelsea then replied, again in writing, with one or two changes and an agreement was reached.
Why? Because Woodward wanted to keep it strictly to the business of signing the 25-year-old, avoiding an exchange Chelsea would have wanted about Wayne Rooney.
United want to keep Rooney. Talks about a new contract have started and there is a real determination to secure the England striker’s services for the remainder of his career. Senior officials insist they will never sell to Chelsea and they hope Rooney’s excitement at the prospect of playing with Mata will make negotiations with his agent, Paul Stretford, that much easier.
It was the Rooney situation that prevented United from pursuing Mata last summer, when the club first became aware his days at Stamford Bridge might be numbered.
United knew Mata felt he had no future under Jose Mourinho and wanted to leave but at that stage Woodward was too busy rejecting a series of offers for Rooney from Chelsea.
Any approach for Mata would have been met with a demand to include Rooney in an exchange – a deal Woodward and new manager David Moyes were not prepared to entertain.
So United had to be patient, and leave it to Mata’s father and his English lawyer, Colin Pomford, to deal with Chelsea. By September 3, Chelsea had made a promise to Mata. If he remained professional but also on the sidelines under Mourinho, they would let him leave in January.
Still, however, United stayed quiet. They knew Mata wanted to come. They knew he had secured his promise. But not until Mata had something in writing did United want to act.
By early January Mata had something in writing. He could leave for £45m – but to anyone except United. Indeed, if United wanted him there would have to be a separate negotiation.
Any other club in Europe could have moved in but the problem for Chelsea was that Mata only wanted to move to United.
In the end Mata and his advisers secured another promise, albeit only verbally, that he could move to United if they agreed to pay £37.1m.
So Woodward instructed the lawyer to send over a straight- forward request to buy a player whose exclusion by Mourinho remains perplexing to most.
It was a welcome success for Woodward after the criticism he received during the summer. But it was also satisfying because United’s position on Rooney had not been been compromised or complicated.
When Woodward and his United colleagues walked into Stamford Bridge eight days ago, they avoided any conversation about Mata or Rooney, even in a brief exchange with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
With Mata now a United player, the next objective is to agree a new contract with Rooney.
The first meeting between Woodward and Stretford has already taken place, and they have developed a relationship after a series of conversations during the summer.
Unreasonable demands will not be entertained, and United have already made it clear that selling Rooney to Chelsea is not an option. They would rather see him run down his Old Trafford contract than do that. But the hope is that a deal can be struck.
Moyes has a major rebuilding job ahead but a front line of Rooney, Mata and Robin van Persie is not a bad starting point. – Daily Mail