Comment: Juan Mata £37m move to Manchester United shows that even Europe's richest clubs must accept the new FFP rules

Chelsea have welcomed the influx of funds that will help them balance the books

chief football correspondent

Roman Abramovich is known to be an enthusiastic and typically high-end art collector, strongly rumoured be the buyer of “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” by Francis Bacon in November for £89m. In 2008 The Art Newspaper claimed he bought Bacon’s “Tryptych” and Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” for around £60m, never confirmed or denied.

Earlier that year, Abramovich and Chelsea paid around £8m for the Brazil-born, naturalised Portuguese, midfielder Deco – a man who had the word “Art” placed before his name by headline writers more often than any footballer in the history of newspapers. But he was a relatively modest acquisition by comparison with those investments in the world art market.

If the reports are true then Abramovich has easily exceeded the £50m British transfer record his club paid for Fernando Torres three years ago on one canvas of oil paint alone. But then art is a much more secure investment than buying footballers: it generally rises in value over the years, you don’t have to pay it a salary and you never have to worry about it turning up late for training.

If he wants, Abramovich can hang his great works on his office wall, or leave them in a 24-hour security, temperature-controlled warehouse for his children to inherit. He cannot do the same with a footballer. They are much more complex. Their price fluctuates dramatically. Under-used or ignored, they become just a moody face and a tracksuit and when their contract runs out, so too will their value to Chelsea.

Which brings us to the sale of Juan Mata. It is the ultimate modern transfer because it was sanctioned according to a much more complex set of criteria than those that dictated player trading in the past. One that takes in Financial Fair Play, pressure on squad numbers under home-grown quota rules, and a more complicated relationship between club and player than one is accustomed to in these kind of deals.

There was a time when Chelsea would have just held on to Mata to stop a rival like Manchester United signing him. After all, they could afford to pay his salary, keep him for games like the FA Cup tie against Stoke City yesterday. They could have waited until he was so fed up that he would jump at the chance to join a new-money club like Monaco.

There is a good argument for not selling your best players to direct domestic rivals. But who wants a game where the best players are stockpiled, with some of them only occasionally exhibited in the early rounds of the Capital One Cup?

Mata, as Jose Mourinho acknowledged, is too good a player to spend his days watching games at Stamford Bridge. It has been tough for Chelsea supporters to accept, but for football – the basic notion that the top players should play every week at the top clubs – it is the best outcome.

At the start of the season, when it first became clear that Mata was not part of Mourinho’s plans, his advisors drew up an agreement that he could leave the club for $45m (£37m) this month if the situation remained the same. United were originally the only club excluded from that agreement but when it was amended to include United, Chelsea stuck to their promise.

Why? One starts with the basic fact that Oscar was Mourinho’s first choice, ahead of Mata, in the playmaking role, and once that is established, the question is whether it is prudent to keep an asset worth £37m on the bench.

There is much about FFP that is half-hearted, not least the manner in which it seeks to shut the portcullis on clubs challenging the elite with the help of a benefactor – unfortunately the only way these days. But it can claim a significant part in the reasoning for selling Mata, a factor in the decision acknowledged by Mourinho.

The sale of Mata is earning Chelsea by coincidence exactly the same amount of losses Uefa permit clubs to make in the current monitoring period of Financial Fair Play over its first two seasons.

This is a club that just about managed to keep their FFP losses under that threshold in their most recent financial results, having been permitted around £12m of reductions by Uefa on their annual losses of £49.4m. Mata’s sale is fundamental to keeping them within those parameters, especially with the arrival this month of Nemanja Matic (£21m) and Mohamed Salah (£11m).

Mata will score goals for United. He may even score them against Chelsea. This could never be a win-win situation for his former club. In keeping or selling Mata, there was no option left open to them that did not have major disadvantages.

Despite his professionalism at Chelsea during his exile under Mourinho, there was already pressure developing between manager and player. Hold onto him and it could get worse while his transfer value would begin to fall.

The biggest decisions that face all managers, so too political leaders, are those when the margins are at their finest. Much easier to sanction the signing of Eden Hazard for £32m when he is the player whom the whole of Europe wants. Just as it was relatively easy for Sir Alex Ferguson to jettison a then 34-year-old, injured, rebellious Roy Keane. Not a decision likely to come back to haunt a manager in the long term (give or take the odd barb on ITV).

Much harder to let go a 25-year-old who has carried the team at times over the last two years, especially when he is joining a club that can never be discounted as a threat to Chelsea in the long term. But the good managers make their big decisions based on a firm set of principles that they hope will see them through the thick and the thin.

Ferguson did it in his famous summer of change in 1995 at United. To a lesser extent it was the same when Brendan Rodgers moved on Liverpool’s record signing Andy Carroll immediately upon taking over as manager, when it would have been easier just to bumble along with him and not rock the boat. More than 18 months on, Rodgers has been proven right.

A manager, a club, must constantly re-evaluate his squad’s strengths in this era of 21st-century football. Post-Bosman, post-FFP, post-Champions League and Premier League squad home-grown quotas, the picture is changing day-by-day, as contracts tick down and potential new signings emerge. Neglect to tend it and you can quickly find the garden going to seed, as United have discovered over the last five months.

These are all delicate factors which have to be balanced and at the centre must be one man with the strength to make a big decision and accept the consequences. Mourinho said on Friday that the decision to sell Mata was taken in consultation with other executives, even, he said, the commercial department. But it won’t be them getting sacked if Chelsea cannot finish in the Champions League places next season.

By comparison, managing the Abramovich art collection looks relatively straightforward: one keeps bidding until everyone else in the room simply stops trying to catching the auctioneer’s eye. It used to be that simple running his football club, but not any more.

Read more...

United reach agreement with Chelsea for transfer of Mata for club-record £37m fee
Mourinho feels honesty is best policy over Mata transfer
Mourinho: Wenger should stop moaning, I would have sold to Arsenal and Manchester City
Sir Alex Ferguson to carry on attending Manchester United matches
Mourinho confirms Chelsea 'are done' in the transfer window
Rooney row with Chelsea factor in United using third party deal to sign Mata
Mata will take United into the Champions League - according to Football Manager
Manchester United's most expensive signings... were the worth it?
Are Manchester United About to sign the most effective midfielder in the Premier League?
Pellegrini agrees with Wenger - Mata move is unfair
Chelsea will regret selling Mata to United - Wenger
Suggested Topics
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower