Juan Mata has admitted that he “never thought the moment would come” to leave Stamford Bridge, in a heartfelt open letter to Chelsea fans.
The Spaniard, who on Saturday completed a £37.1m move to Manchester United, said he had intended to stay at Chelsea “for a long time”, but blamed “complicated situations…during the last six months” for forcing his decision to seek a move away from the club.
In the letter, Mata said he was “looking forward to the future and…to playing football” but revealed that he had “mixed feelings” over his switch to David Moyes’s struggling side.
Despite being frozen out under Jose Mourinho, Mata, who has completed 90 minutes just once this season, insisted he harboured no bitterness towards the Chelsea manager.
Instead he thanked Mourinho “for making me a stronger player, because in difficult moments, I have learnt to remain positive and to keep working hard”.
Manchester United's most expensive signings... were they worth it?
Manchester United's most expensive signings... were they worth it?
1/12 Juan Mata - £37m - January 2013
Spain midfielder Juan Mata arrives from Chelsea as a proven dynamo in midfield. During his two full seasons at Chelsea, he was voted their player of the season.
But will he be a success? As the following slides show, spending lots of money isn't always the answer
2/12 Dimitar Berbatov - £30.75m - September 2008
Manchester United spent the summer of 2008 pursuing Tottenham striker Dimitar Berbatov, but it was just a dramatic few minutes before the close of the transfer window that they got their man. And the Bulgarian didn't come cheap at £30.75m - United's most expensive ever signing (until Mata).
Compared with Eric Cantona upon his arrival, Berbatov fell well short of expectations. 48 league goals in 108 appearances is not a bad return, but that he didn't even make the bench for the 2011 Champions League final against Barcelona spoke volumes.
Best remembered for his saved penalty against Everton in the semi-final of the 2009 FA Cup in which his casual spot-kick made him look like a plonker, and on the flip-side, his hat-trick against Liverpool in 2010.
Sold to Fulham for around £5m in 2012.
3/12 Rio Ferdinand - £29.3m - July 2002
When United paid Leeds United £29.3m back in 2002, it appeared a crazy amount of money to spend on a defender. Yet Rio Ferdinand has been a linchpin of the squad in the intervening decade (excluding the eight months he was banned for missing a drugs test) and was worth every penny.
United won the league in his first season and another five after that. He also helped United win the Champions League in 2008.
4/12 Juan Sebastián Verón - £28.1m - July 2001
The arrival of Juan Sebastián Verón from Lazio was one of the most glamourous signings in the history of the Premier League - yet sadly for United it was only that, with little substance to the £28.1m man.
The Argentine never settled at Old Trafford and made just 51 league appearances in which he scored seven goals. Two years after arriving, he was sold to Chelsea (who incredibly paid £15m for a player who would make just 14 appearances for the west Londoners).
5/12 Wayne Rooney - £27m - August 2004
After bursting onto the scene at Goodison Park, and then appearing as though he could carry England to the Euro 2004 title before injury struck, it was obvious Everton would not be able to hold on to their boy wonder.
And it was Manchester United who came calling, splashing out £27m on the then 18-year-old. It was a huge fee for such a young player - but in retrospect a bargain. On his debut he scored a Champions League hat-trick against Fenerbahce and he never looked back. Rooney is currently the fourth highest scorer in Manchester United's history.
6/12 Robin van Persie - £24m - August 2012
Robin van Persie, Ferguson's final big-name signing, scored 30 goals in his first season at the club as United reclaimed the title from Manchester City with ease.
There is no doubt that the Dutchman is among the best in the Premier League, but injury problems under David Moyes have raised concerns that he fitness record at Old Trafford could be as frustrating as when he was at Arsenal.
7/12 Anderson - £20.4m - July 2007
Still only 25-years-old, there remains perhaps a little more time for Anderson to justify why United paid Porto in excess of £20m for the midfielder's services.
Yet it must be said that the box-to-box midfielder has been disappointing in the six-years he's spent at Old Trafford, showing only marginal progress during that period. Although, if Anderson does nothing else, he will be able to say he scored United's sixth attempt from the penalty spot in the 2008 Champions League final against Chelsea. John Terry missed with the next spot-kick as United claimed their third European Cup triumph.
8/12 Ruud van Nistelrooy - £19m - June 2001
Alex Ferguson pursued Ruud van Nistelrooy for years, and it was only injuries that stopped the Dutch striker transferring from PSV Eindhoven to United earlier. He would be worth the wait.
In 150 league appearances he would score 95 goals, while his record in the Champions League was incredible. During his time at United he scored 38 Champions League goals - more than any other United player in the club's history. After five-years at the club he was sold to Real Madrid.
9/12 David de Gea - £18.9m - June 2011
United needed to replace the retiring Edwin van der Sar with a top-class stopper, yet while David de Gea clearly had ability, Ferguson's decision to put his faith in a 20-year-old with relatively little experience surprised many.
Signed from Atlético Madrid in the summer of 2011, the Spaniard started shakily but has since silenced the doubters (barring his horrendous error against Sunderland in the Capital One Cup semi-final)
10/12 Michael Carrick - £18.6m - July 2006
Another player Tottenham reluctantly sold to United, Michael Carrick has been a consistent force in Ferguson's midfield since joining in 2006.
Among other honours, the England international has five league titles to his name and a Champions League medal. There are few better passers in the Premier League, but his inability to find the back of the net remains a frustration.
11/12 Nani - £17.3m - July 2007
Unfairly compared to his countryman Cristiano Ronaldo after arriving from Sporting Lisbon in 2007, Nani had a slow start to his Old Trafford career.
Yet he has showed signs of breaking free of those shackles, netting 10 goals from midfield in both the 2010/11 and 2011/12 season. Despite signing a new contract after the arrival of David Moyes, he continues to be linked with a move away.
12/12 Owen Hargreaves - £17m - July 2007
Consistent displays at the heart of Bayern Munich's midfield, and then impressive performances in an England shirt under Sven Goran-Eriksson brought Owen Hargreaves to the attention of the British public, and Alex Ferguson, and in the summer of 2007 he joined Manchester United in a £17m deal.
Some described him as one of the most naturally talented midfielders England had ever seen - yet Manchester United fans didn't get much of a chance to see for themselves. Injuries would limit Hargreaves to just 39 appearances for the club before he was released.
And Mata, who was voted Chelsea’s player of the year in each of the last two seasons, also paid tribute to the fans who had supported him.
“I will never forget all the affection given to me by the Chelsea fans,” he wrote. “With your support and affection I have grown up as a player and I have had an amazing time both on and off the pitch.”
This is the full text of Mata’s letter:
As you can imagine this is a very important day in my life, and with these lines I would like to express the memories and emotions that come to me as I write.
This letter is written from my heart, and first of all I would like to say that I will never forget all the affection given to me by the Chelsea fans. From the very first day until the last.
With your support and affection I have grown up as a player and I have had an amazing time both on and off the pitch. I will always feel the gratitude towards you. Always. No words are enough to give back all the things I have received.
There has been plenty of good moments: the FA Cup, my first trophy as a Blue; the immense happiness of winning titles for the first time in the club’s history, such as that magical Champions League night in Munich and the Europa League.
On the other hand, I have experienced some complicated situations from a personal point of view, mainly during the last six months. Every message I got through the social media, every nice word you have said to me on the street, and of course, your support in the stadium, has made me feel incredibly proud of the Chelsea fans; you deserve a team like the one you’ve got, with so many fantastic players.
I won’t forget the faith you put in me when I was given the player of the year award the last two seasons. I feel really proud and I will never forget those nights.
Thank you so much for the way you have treated me, you have been unbelievable. I hope you understand that after going through a complicated and, for me, new situation in the last few months, I believe this is the best choice in order to carry on with my football career and to keep enjoying this sport.
Before last summer, my intention was to stay here for a long time; as long as the club wanted me to, and to keep winning trophies for Chelsea FC. This is how happy I was in the club and in the city. However, as you all know, things changed after the preseason. From feeling like an important player, I started to experience some difficult situations and I felt unable to help the team to the extent that I wanted and was used to. Obviously, I fully respect the circumstances.
Football is a team sport and it’s not easy to play regularly in such a good squad. In sports you may win or lose, but the most important thing is to give everything. I hope you know and feel that I have always done so. In every game, in every training session, without exception. I have always tried my best for the club.
I would like to emphasise the affection, admiration and respect that I’ve had for my former team mates since the first day. I want to thank the captains for their help and understanding at all times. They made me feel comfortable when I arrived and they have supported me throughout the difficult times this season.
I thank all my former team mates for these two and a half years and I wish them the best, personally and professionally, for the future. Of course I have been closer to some of them, but the most important thing is that my years in Chelsea have left me with great friends. Friends forever, football rivalries aside.
I also want to highlight the day-to-day job of every member of the Chelsea staff: medical team, kit men, staff at Cobham and Stamford Bridge, media and marketing department, Chelsea TV team… All of them are very important in making this club a great one. Thank you for your treatment and your efforts to make the life of the players easier.
Furthermore, thanks to every manager I have had the pleasure to work with during my time here. They have all been a big help for my progression as a player. I have always respected their decisions, whatever they were; they made me more mature and a stronger person. You learn from everything, and certain situations make you think about other team mates who are coping with similar situations more regularly.
Thank you Andre for giving me the opportunity to join Chelsea FC. Without your support, none of this would have happened. To Robbie and Rafa, for their unlimited trust in me. And to Jose, for making me a stronger player, because in difficult moments, I have learnt to remain positive and to keep working hard.
Lastly, I want to thank the Club, and in particular its owner, Roman Abramovich, for trusting me and making an important investment when signing me. Also for their understanding regarding my situation over the last months. I’m very glad to have been part of the squad that made his and our dream come true: winning the Champions League on that unforgettable night in Munich. Additionally, my years in Chelsea have been profitable for the club, which I’m very pleased about.
I want to make clear that the stage that now comes to an end has been extremely important for me, personally and professionally. Although many of you, like myself, never thought this moment would come, this is football and a new chapter is about to begin.
I would have liked to say good bye to all of you in the stadium, or in a press conference, but it has not been possible. I’m sure I will be able to do it in the future, because that is what you deserve.
Evidently, today is a day of mixed feelings, remembering the past and looking forward to the future and what it has to bring. I look forward to being happy and to enjoy what I like the most: play football.
I will never forget my time in Chelsea and the affection I take with me, I will keep forever.
I wish you the best. A big hug to all of you.
THANK YOU so much,