The protracted cold war between Jose Mourinho and Juan Mata took a surprisingly tender turn on Friday, when the Chelsea manager revealed his sorrow at leaving Mata out of the team. The Spaniard has started just 12 out of 26 games in the Premier League and Champions League, after struggling to find a role in Chelsea's strategy this season. But Mourinho said being forced to leave out Mata (right) "hurt" him.
"I always try to be a cold one," he said. Only three times this season has Mata played a full 90 minutes for the club, and the playmaker reacted angrily to being substituted shortly after half-time against Southampton on Wednesday. After the 3-0 win at St Mary's, Mourinho appeared to leave open the possibility of Mata departing in the January transfer window, but ahead of tomorrow's FA Cup tie against Derby County, he said he would fight to keep him at the club.
"I try to do my job forgetting that I am a soft heart and pretending that I am a hard heart," Mourinho said. "With decisions I have to make, many times it hurts me, many times it hurts him. "But the best way to do my job is to think that the team is more important than any player. When I have to make decisions, I always try to be a cold one, icy, analysing the situation and trying to make the best decision for the team. But yes, it hurts me." The impasse centres on Mourinho's insistence that Oscar is superior in the No?10 position just behind the striker. Despite being Chelsea's player of the season two years running playing in that role, Mata has been largely banished to the right wing, with its greater emphasis on raw pace and defensive responsibility. Mourinho again warned Mata that he must play for the team and not himself.
"The kid is a good kid," Mourinho said. "He works hard, and of course it is not an easy situation not to be playing every time. And if he does very well for us - not for him, but for us - I love it. I keep saying I want him to stay. Today he trained in a fantastic way." Mourinho said the club were yet to receive a bid for Mata. But what if he were to request a transfer? "I would say: 'Go to Stamford Bridge and speak with the board'. And I call the board to say: 'Don't let him go'."
One player who appears to be on the verge of leaving Stamford Bridge is Kevin de Bruyne. The 22-year-old Belgian winger was signed for around pounds 7?million two years ago, but has failed to claim a regular first-team place. With Wolfsburg and one other club believed to have made inquiries, he now wants to leave. Mourinho said he could, at the right price. "We know that Kevin didn't adapt very well to the difficult life a Chelsea player has," Mourinho said. "This was the first time Kevin came to a club with big competition and fantastic players, and it was a bit difficult to adapt."