- Premier League
Mata: United had a crisis in confidence
Juan Mata believes a collapse of confidence and self-belief were the primary reasons why Manchester United tumbled from their perch as Premier League champions.
Mata's arrival at United from Chelsea in the January transfer window was designed to lift United from what was threatening to be their worst campaign in a quarter of a century, but the Spaniard was unable to halt their slide before manager David Moyes was sacked last month.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian, Mata spoke about his first few months at United and how the confidence within the dressing room he walked into was drained following the departure of iconic manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Chicharito headed to Brazil
- Juan Mata's fellow Manchester United forward Javier Hernandez has been included in Mexico coach Miguel Herrera's final 23-man World Cup squad.
- Former Spurs Giovani Dos Santos is also in.
- "This list was made with my head and not my heart," Herrera said. "I am looking for a team that has ball possession and is physically powerful. These 23 players know what it means to be champions."
"It's complicated when someone's been at a club for almost 30 years, it's a dramatic change. Things haven't worked out," Mata said.
"I remember coming here with Chelsea and it was almost impossible to win at Old Trafford. Thirteen months ago, United would be losing 3-0 and they'd win 4-3. Now we're losing 3-0 and a comeback feels impossible.
"Maybe there was a loss of confidence, maybe the club found itself in a position it has not been in for years and found it hard to react.
"There are also huge demands here. If you don't win the league one year, you have to win it the next. We're all responsible, not just the coach.
"Next season we have to demonstrate that the club has not lost its essence, its mentality or its competitiveness, that Manchester United has not lost its identity."
Mata thanked the departed Moyes for his role in bringing him to Manchester, as he said the United players should accept their shame of the blame for the failure of the former Everton boss at Old Trafford.
"When a manager goes, the feeling is sadness; there's disappointment and a sense of responsibility. 'If we'd played better, he wouldn't have been sacked,'" he continued. "But the sensation is more general, it's not necessarily focused on the manager. I'll always be grateful to Moyes for bringing me here."
Mata revealed he never spoke to Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho about the reasons why he had fallen out of favour at Stamford Bridge, but he was grateful that a club of United's stature was willing to pay 37 million pounds to secure his services.
"When you're not playing, you don't always have the opportunity to join a club like Manchester United, prepared to pay a barbaridad [fortune] to sign you," he reflected.
"It's hard to find a club that does that, especially for a player who's not playing. It gives you enormous confidence, to be United's most expensive player is a big deal and makes me feel I have played well in England. I'm grateful they think so highly of me.
"David [Moyes] called me and said they needed a player like me who makes the team play, who could offer fluidity and provide assists and goals.
"He told me he thought I could play in any of the three positions behind the striker. I said, yes, I'd played in all three during my career. But in negotiations like this, it always takes a long time. Then came the journey in the helicopter. It was all a bit unreal. And then after just two days' training, I was playing for Manchester United."
Mata concluded by suggesting United may benefit from failing to qualify for next season's Europa League as they head into the final weekend of the season battling it out with Tottenham for a place in UEFA's second string competition.
"Of course, I would rather be playing in the Champions League," added Mata, "but if we take Liverpool as the example this year; there's a team who have fought all the way to the finish without having played in the Champions League and that might have helped them. Why not? That might be good for the Premier League, yes."