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Money men Mata the most

If ever a transfer epitomised the zeitgeist of the modern game, this was it.

Juan Mata's helicopter trip to Manchester was delayed Photograph: Twitter
Juan Mata's helicopter trip to Manchester was delayed Photograph: Twitter

A helicopter is hired to transport Juan Mata the 200 miles that separate West London from Carrington, Manchester United's training ground. This happened yesterday, despite the fact that the deal was agreed on Wednesday.

Why the delay? Well, Manchester United wanted to wait for the New York Stock Exchange to close on Friday night (4pm New York time, 9pm London time) because news of the £37 million transfer was price-sensitive and it was best to announce it after hours.

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Of course, given that Mata knew as of Wednesday evening that he was moving to Old Trafford, he had plenty of time to make his own way there. Let's see, he arrived yesterday at 1pm, according to people familiar with the deal, everything was confirmed Wednesday afternoon, so he could have left at 7pm that night and given himself 66 hours to reach Carrington. Indeed, except for bathroom breaks and sleep, he could have walked there.

But, of course, by delaying matters until the day after the share price-sensitive announcement, it also allowed MUTV to document his helicopter landing live. And for United's social media to disseminate photographs of Mata, complete with pocket square, emerging to greet a training-gear clad David Moyes.

Moyes himself had just returned from Germany, where he watched Bayern defeat Borussia Moenchengladbach on Friday night. So perhaps that was part of the hold-up too: the need for the manager to continue his hop-scotching around Europe.

But there's more. The whole notion that a club like Chelsea would get rid of the man who was voted Player of the Season in each of the previous two years and dispatch him to a direct rival would have also been anathema until recently.

But this is the era of the super-manager backed by super-funds. Chelsea have one in Jose Mourinho and there's an owner willing to throw money around. And Mourinho arrived believing that Mata did not fit his tactical vision, got the owner to buy players who would fit in (like Willian) and spent the first half of the season proving that this was the case. In other circumstances, in different times, at different club, you would expect a new coach to work with what he has and add to his best players.

Or, if the coach had enough clout, to sell the incumbent superstar straight away and replace him with others: you certainly would not get a six-month audition period in which the boss had to prove something to the owner. No more.

And what of United? They broke their club record by some distance and did it in January. Again, something that would never have happened in the Sir Alex Ferguson era. They also spent all that money on a player who - when everyone is fit - has no natural place in the starting line-up, unless you plan to bench or sell one of your two highest paid players, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney.

Mata can play behind a centre-forward or on the wing. But for the latter, you need to switch to a possession-based game and give him licence to do less work off the ball. Something which United currently do not do and which Moyes has never done. Or, if you do the former, you have no room for Rooney, unless you want to play him out wide (and he grumbles when that happens) or unless you switch to a 4-3-1-2 or 4-3-2-1 (Christmas tree) formation. The trouble with either scheme is that it requires a lot of depth in central midfield (which United do not have) and dispenses with wingers (which United have in industrial quantities: Nani, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Adnan Januzaj, etc).

The bottom line is that to make it work United need to either change their (and the manager's) philosophy or the tactical set-up (and change it to something for which their squad isn't suited and do it in mid-season, when there's less time to work on new formations).

Another mega-blunder from United? Possibly. Or maybe it's just more of a mega-gamble.

Whatever questions Mata's arrival might raise in terms of tactics, in the short-term he makes the team better. They are six points out of fourth place, with a favourable run-in. As a short-term boost, he may be enough for a top-four finish. Throw in a Champions League run - it's true that Mata is cup-tied in Europe, but it's equally true that United face Olympiakos in the next round - and Moyes can turn his transition year into something that looks better than it does now.

To those who think the Premier League model of club ownership - buy in with lots of cash and we won't ask too many questions - is the only viable option, the merits of member-owned clubs came to the fore last week at Barcelona.

Club president Sandro Rosell was forced to resign after a lowly club member - a pharmacist named Jordi Cases - took the club to court alleging that the fee paid for Neymar was as much as £30m more than the reported £48.6m.

Barcelona issued a statement on Friday standing by Rosell (who claims he resigned because of threats, not because of any admission of guilt) and confirming the reported fee, despite rumours that the discrepancy was caused by a payment to Neymar's father, reportedly a third-party owner in the Brazilian superstar.

Whatever the case - and Rosell and Barcelona are entitled to their day in court - it's nearly unthinkable that something like this would ever happen in the Premier League. Club member? Minor shareholder? Meh ... the courts wouldn't be interested. And the lack of transparency does the rest.

Wow, Euro 2016 sure is getting off on the right foot, eh? Uefa announced that the host nation, France, will have to go through qualifying despite the fact that, as hosts, they have already qualified. Huh?

Les Bleus will still be drawn into one of the groups, it's just that their results won't count. And whichever group they're drawn in will effectively have only five nations competing. This was done because of the difficulty France would otherwise have in arranging friendlies on those international dates. Fair enough. Though you wonder if this might have taken place if the hosts were somebody other than France.

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