If the Premier League season ended today it would be very difficult to avoid selecting Juan Mata as the Player of the Year. The spanish midfielder has been the catalyst for Chelsea’s early dominance of the Premier League, leading the best midfield in the league. Chelsea currently sit 4 points ahead of both Manchester United and City and have barely stumbled since the Premier League season has kicked off. Mata has been central to that consistency with 6 goals and 7 assists in all competitions thus far, including 2 UEFA Champions League goals, a competition which he has dominated thus far.
However, when it comes to the Spanish national team Mata has yet to be given a legitimate opportunity. Mata first broke into the Spanish side in 2008 when he made a substitute appearance in a World Cup Qualifier. Since then he has only played in 19 matches for the national side, although within those matches he has 6 international goals. The majority of these goals have come in Euro and World Cup Qualifying, however with his goal to seal a 4-0 victory against Italy in the Euro 2012 final it seemed like Mata had finally found his place in the Spanish lineup.
That very same summer, after the champagne of the Euro Cup victory ran dry and the Spanish National Team was being called the best National team of all-time, Mata was given another opportunity. As per usual the Spanish U23 side were allowed to call up two players over 23 to bolster there lineup for the Olympic games in London. They did just that adding Juan Mata as well as Adrian Lopez of Athletico Madrid. With notable names like Mata, Lopez, Isco, Javi Martinez, Jordi Alba and David De Gea the Spanish were considered amongst the favorites.
On paper this team would be very good competition for the Brazilian side who were called the most dangerous in the tournament. A lot of anticipation was built up for when these two sides met. Yet they never did – they never even got a chance. The Spanish exited the tournament not only without a win but without a goal. Mata, who could have had his coming out party at this tournament, playing incredibly poorly, especially against players who were exponentially poorer then him. The Olympics are by no means a big deal to most footballers, especially after having won the Euro’s earlier in the summer, but for once it seemed Spain were in this tournament to win.
It is somewhat improbable that Spain base withholding Mata from its roster solely on his relatively poor performance for the national team at the Olympics. But whether that has anything to do with the reason or not, Spain have not been very interested in Mata since. This includes the recent “snubbing” of Mata from their lineup for their most recent set of World Cup Qualifiers. Meanwhile, Mata, as aforementioned, has been churning out class performances for his club side. So why isn’t Mata making it into the Spanish lineup and is there even a spot for him?
It is well known by now that the midfield is the reason the Spanish are currently considered the best in the world. The side’s possession-based dominance comes only because their midfield is by far the best in the world. While Mata is played out of this world at the moment, it will take something spectacular to put him ahead of Cesc Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta, Xavi Alonso or Sergio Busquets. Especially considering the fact that this team are not only winning but are winning every important game that they play in. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. The Chemistry is spot-on at the moment with Spain, so there is no need to make any adjustments ahead of a major tournament in 2014.
Of course, however, age is now becoming a factor. Mata, to the incredible surprise of most, is only 24 years of age so he certainly has plenty of time. Meanwhile both Iniesta and Xavi are nearing the end of their respective careers, opening the door for the next generation of Spanish midfielders. Mata will most certainly prove to be a solid replacement for either of these two when they move on from the program, but at what stage will the Spanish team get to that point? Will they be a Championship contender anymore or while they be relegated to what the Spanish are traditionally known for: being underachievers at the international level.
It certainly doesn’t help that Mata plays abroad, as domestic club players have always been first in the pecking order – just ask Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Riena when he was in his prime. While few foreign-based Spanish players of quality exist, those who do have the skill necessary have not been picked regularly. Even before his run of poor form, Torres wasn’t getting all that much playing time with Spain post-Euro 2008. If Mata was based domestically with Barcelona, Real Madrid or even Athletico Madrid, there would be a far easier comparison to make between himself and those that he competes against for a position on Spain. Vincent Del Bosque would clearly have a far easier job qualifying picking Mata for the roster.
Mata will eventually make his way into the Spanish 11, if he keeps his play at the current level. Yet until something goes wrong for the Spanish or the current crop of players move on, his chances are far less likely. He should not be in the starting 11, but it is very hard to argue that he should not be on the bench…that’s just silly.
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