Juan Mata has carved out a bit of a niche for himself in English football.
The Manchester United midfielder appears to be well-liked across the country, which is rare for a player who has turned out for two of the Premier League’s most successful clubs.
His charity work and off-field sincerity have arguably drawn more plaudits than his footballing ability – but there’s plenty of that too.
Mata has made 343 combined appearances for Chelsea and Manchester United since arriving in England, scoring 76 goals and winning two FA Cups, the Champions League, the EFL Cup and two Europa League trophies.
However, Mata has struggled to maintain a regular place in United’s line-up recently and, with just six months left on his current contract, reports suggest he could be on his way out of Old Trafford.
So where will the Spaniard end up if he leaves United? We’ve had a look at some of the options.
The Mirror claims Barcelona are one of four clubs currently monitoring Mata’s contract situation. A return to Spain, and the chance to play alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique, could be difficult to turn down.
Mata recently spoke of how he misses Spain. “I’ve been in England for a while, but it’s true that at times you miss home, your family, your friends,” he said.
“But I don’t know if I’ll return to Spain in the near future. I’m calm, I’m at the fantastic club that is Manchester United, one of the biggest in the world.”
If Mata isn’t keen to leave United for a club with a lesser stature, then Barcelona could be one of the only options.
The deal would be suitable for Barcelona, too; the La Liga leaders could do with another playmaker to provide competition for Philippe Coutinho, who has struggled to find his best form in recent months. Mata would be a useful member of the squad for that reason alone, but he can offer so much more on top.
If Barcelona decide against making Kevin Prince-Boateng’s loan permanent at the end of the season, Mata would be an ideal alternative – some would even say an upgrade.
Mata has come to a crossroads in his career. He must decide whether he wants to be a squad player for a club the size of Manchester United or Barcelona, or if it’s time to step down a sub-level.
According to the Daily Mail, Mata’s former club Valencia are keen for their prodigal son to return to the Mestalla. Ultimately, the deal would make sense for all involved; Mata would be the star of the team, and his quality would help Los Che push for the Champions League places again.
Currently sitting ninth in La Liga, a top-four finish looks like a big ask for Valencia right now, but the acquisition of Mata would boost their European chances next term.
As mentioned above, Mata has expressed how he misses home, and Valencia was his home for four years between 2007-2011. He made 174 appearances for the club, scoring 46 goals and winning the Copa del Rey in 2007-08.
It might sound like a fairytale return, but in reality, it would be a logical move for all parties.
Of course, there is no guarantee Mata will want to leave England if he is to depart Old Trafford. The Mirror suggests Arsenal is a potential avenue for the 30-year-old to explore.
A move back to London would likely be an enticing prospect. Mata enjoyed the best spell of his career at Chelsea, where he was named the club’s player of the year in 2011-12 and 2012-13. It was only when Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge that things started to go downhill.
Mata may have his eye on reuniting with his countryman Unai Emery at the Emirates. Emery managed Mata for three years at Valencia and will know the kind of talent the World Cup winner possesses.
Arsenal seem to be unwilling to spend big sums on new players at the moment, so a free transfer for a player of Mata’s calibre must be hugely appealing for the London club.
What’s more, Mesut Ozil’s long-term future under Emery is up in the air, meaning the Gunners could be on the lookout for a new creative, attacking midfielder.
Squawka suggests: Arsenal
A move to Arsenal ticks all the boxes for Mata. His game time may continue to be reduced at Barcelona, and at Valencia, there is no guarantee of European football. With Arsenal, Mata could reinvigorate his career under a coach he knows well and push for Champions League football while remaining in England.