MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Manchester United smashed the club’s transfer record to sign Juan Mata from Chelsea for 37.1 million pounds ($61.2 million) on Saturday, giving the beleaguered English Premier League champions a major lift.
The Spain midfielder was deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea after losing his place in the team since Jose Mourinho’s return as manager last summer.
The move, which is the most high-profile yet in Europe’s January transfer window, will guarantee Mata is back playing regular football ahead of the World Cup in Brazil. It is also a statement of intent from United amid a tough period for new manager David Moyes, whose team is seventh in the Premier League and struggling to qualify for the lucrative Champions League.
“United is the perfect place for me and I am excited at the chance I have to be part of the next phase in the club’s history,” said the 25-year-old Mata, who was flown to Manchester by helicopter on Saturday so he could undergo his medical examination and agree on personal terms.
“Chelsea is a top club and I have many friends there but you cannot turn down the chance to join Manchester United.”
Mata was Chelsea’s player of the year for the last two seasons but has spent most of the 2013-14 campaign on the substitutes’ bench, with Mourinho deciding to make Brazil international Oscar his No. 1 playmaker.
Mourinho granted Mata’s request to leave Stamford Bridge in light of United’s interest and having already found a virtual replacement in Egypt winger Mohamed Salah, who is close to joining from Swiss team Basel.
“I and everyone at Chelsea have massive respect for Juan and his big talent, and when he told us of his wish to move on because he wanted to play more, we did not want to deny him this opportunity,” Mourinho said.
“We want him to be successful in his career and as well as that, this transfer makes huge financial sense to us at Chelsea.”
Moyes has made a decisive move in the transfer market after being criticized for his sluggish dealings in the offseason, when United missed out on the club’s primary targets and brought in only one player - Marouane Fellaini - in the final minutes of deadline day. Fellaini has so far been a major disappointment and is out injured.
Mata’s arrival will create a buzz around Old Trafford and excite fans who have seen United slip 14 points behind leader Arsenal in the Premier League, be eliminated from the FA Cup at the first hurdle and, most recently, lose to Sunderland in the League Cup semifinals.
Last season, United romped to the league title by 11 points under Alex Ferguson.
Once Moyes gets strikers Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney back fit, their combination with Mata and talented young winger Adnan Januzaj should ensure they seriously challenge Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton for the fourth and final Champions League spot. United is six points behind fourth-place Liverpool.
Moyes confirmed Mata will make his debut in the league game against Cardiff at Old Trafford on Tuesday, although he may take time to return to top form after being underused at Chelsea in recent months.