The Wayne Rooney saga, while it is getting a bit tiresome, is fascinating because of the very interesting lottery ticket that he would be for any club acquiring him. Chelsea today made the saga even more interesting by apparently offering up not only a choice of two very good players - each of whom Manchester United probably need more than they need Rooney given the current make up of their squad - but £10 million in cash on top of which ever of Juan Mata or David Luiz the Red Devils should choose.
Assuming this offer were legitimate - and Chelsea have denied offering any players as part of the proposed package for Rooney - the question is who SHOULD be saying no to it? Let's break it down into it's component parts and figure it out:
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Which Player Should United Pick?
Looking at the surplus of defenders, especially central defenders, that United currently have on their roster my sense is that they have a much bigger need for Juan Mata's skills than they do those of David Luiz. Throw in that I consider Mata to be a better player regardless of United's team needs and the case just gets stronger. We don't yet know what line-up or line-ups that David Moyes will employ at United but the notion of Juan Mata supporting Robin van Persie while interchanging with some combination of Ashley Young/Nani/Shinji Kagawa would scare the daylights out of me. Mata's stats may not be as gaudy as Rooney's were in his prime but he seems less dependent on dominating the ball to be effective and as a result would fit in nicely with United's other attackers rather than struggling, as Rooney did last season, to find a way to be effective without being the focal point of the attack.
Why Would Chelsea Give Up Mata?
You have to give to get and honestly, Manchester United don't need a big wad of cash because they can't seem to get any of the attacking midfielders they want (or their clubs) to take their money (see Fabregas, Thiago, etc.). Mata is undoubtedly an exceptional player who has been integral to Chelsea's attack for the past two seasons. Losing him would be a blow. It would, however, be a blow Chelsea are uniquely prepared to sustain. With Eden Hazard, Oscar, Andre Schurrle, Victor Moses and Kevin De Bruyne currently with the club and Marko Marin still on the books but out on loan. Minus Hazard the cupboard wouldn't exactly be bare.
In contrast to their wealth of talent in the midfield/wide attacking roles, Chelsea have struggled to secure a center forward to replace the less-than-inspiring combination of Fernando Torres (a shadow of his former self), Demba Ba (an OK back-up for a team with title aspirations), and Romelu Lukaku (unproven at the highest level). In this rumored deal with United, both clubs would be dealing from strength and acquiring to fill a current weakness.
Who Is The Better Player?
This is a really hard question because it gets to the question of why Wayne Rooney's production declined so dramatically last season. Barring injury, the easy part here is evaluating Juan Mata. He has been an assist machine in both Spain and England and has consistently contributed a solid number of goals as well. You can probably count on him for about 10 goals, 16 assists and a load of chances created.
What Chelsea would be betting is that some combination of Hazard, Schurrle, Oscar, etc. would be able to make up that production with Mata gone. They'd also be betting that the reason that Rooney slipped from 27 goals and 4 assists in 2011-12 to 12 goals and 10 assists last season was his change of role rather than the more sensational storylines related to his fitness and or declining skills. If Chelsea could put a 20-goal scorer with a history of scoring in big matches (check out where Torres scored his goals last season if you want to know why I included that comment) then it would be well worth giving up a player of Mata's undoubted talent.
If I were starting a team from scratch, I'd select Mata (as close to a guaranteed very very good player as you can get and only 25) over Rooney (who could be a better player if he returns to his best but there's no guarantee he will). Despite that choice, I completely see why Chelsea would be willing to give up the better player plus some cash to get their man.
So, Who Is Saying "No" Here?
If Chelsea made the offer then clearly they aren't saying no to this one. The question is why Manchester United would say no and I can only think of one really good reason. They know Rooney better than anyone and despite what Sir Alex said about his fitness, etc. last season they must know he is more likely than not to rediscover his 25+ goal form if he reverts to playing as the focal point of the attack. While United might be getting the better player, the younger player, the player with lower wages, and filling a big need of their own they must feel that there is too strong a chance that Chelsea will get the rejuvinated Rooney while not losing much with the loss of Mata. The goal at the end of the day is to win trophies and if United thinks that adding Mata will improve them some but Chelsea adding Rooney will help them even more and get them closer to United then United would be right to say no to this deal.
There will certainly be the Rooney haters who are assuming that he is in full decline who will disagree with this decision in hopes that United will get rid of a depreciating asset and bring in a much-needed attacking midfielder and they may be right. However, Manchester United's actions (again, assuming that the offer was real) seem to indicate that the percentages are against this point of view.