Juan Mata can adapt to new Manchester United role after contract signing
Mata signed a new one-year-deal with Manchester United this summer to continue into a ninth full season with the club.
When it was announced that Manchester United had renewed the contract of Juan Mata for another year, there were some cheers and some groans from the fanbase.
The Spanish playmaker has seen less and less playing time since the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer back in December 2018, with age and lack of speed reducing his chances of regular games, especially given the high intensity style that the manager wanted to impose.
In his first full season under Solskjaer, he made 37 appearances in all competitions, but only 19 came in the Premier League. That was the least Mata had played for United in a season since the 2013/14 season, where he made 15 after joining in January.
Last season saw him earn even less game time, making just 18 appearances in all competitions and only nine in the Premier League, albeit personal circumstances and injury played their part in that. It's fair to say, however, that the fans unhappy at Mata's contract extension had a point.
But judging by the recent transfers the club has made with Jadon Sancho joining Amad and Facundo Pellistri as attacking players in the first-team squad, Mata's renewal was about more than just what he offers on the pitch.
Youngsters Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbri and Anthony Elanga also earned themselves call-ups to the senior team under Solskjaer at the back-end of last season and in pre-season this summer. And it's their development that Mata can help in this final year of his United stay.
Ignore the fact that he has scored only 15 goals in his last 127 appearances for United and remember what he has done throughout his career.
He won the Copa Del Rey with Valencia as a young attacking midfielder, he then became one of the best playmakers in the world while at Chelsea. His best season came in the 2012/13 campaign as he notched an incredible 19 goals and 35 assists in a campaign that saw the Blues finish trophyless and switch managers mid-way through.
He then joined United during the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era and has managed to be a solid performer in a side that has struggled for consistency.
The second half of his United career has seen him phased out of the starting team and leaned on more as a leader, and that's what this new deal represents.
United's average age in their first-team squad last season was 26.8, with Mata the second oldest outfield player in the squad behind only Edinson Cavani. Interestingly, Cavani was also given a one-year extension at the end of last season although his output on the pitch was significantly greater than Mata's.
But where we've seen the Spaniard the most in recent seasons is in cup competitions, where Solskjaer tends to play his fringe players and youngsters. He's in the side to guide them and help them to understand what is needed to be a top player at the highest level, because he's been there and done that.
This season Mata is likely to see even less time on the pitch than he did last year but he's not in the squad just to play games anymore. He's there to lead by example and use his experience to help propel the next generation to be ready for life in the senior team.
The likes of Hannibal, Shoretire and Amad will likely not see as much game time as they'd ideally want this season, but they'll need to be ready for if and when they're called upon. The best way to be ready is to prepare with the best. Mata is one of the best professionals there is.
He's rarely injured, always performs to a relatively good standard and he has a moment of magic in him with that wand of a left foot.
United have plenty of talented players without him to have a successful season, but it's what Mata does off the pitch this season that could be most important for the club.