MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Juan Mata hopes his move from Chelsea to Premier League rivals Manchester United will help secure his place in champions Spain’s squad for the World Cup in Brazil in June.
Playmaker Mata spoke to the media for the first time on Monday following Saturday’s 37.1 million pounds ($61.22 million) move.
The club revealed he would wear the number eight shirt rather than the number seven used by former greats David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Eric Cantona.
The 25-year-old Mata struggled for game time this season under Jose Mourinho, with Chelsea’s manager preferring an attacking midfield trio comprising Brazilian internationals Oscar and Willian and Belgium winger Eden Hazard.
That led to fears that if he continued to be overlooked he would struggle to claim a seat on the plane to Brazil.
Mata said getting regular game time was crucial ahead of the June finals. “It was really important,” he told a news conference ahead of Tuesday’s Premier League match with Cardiff City.
”As you know the Spanish squad is really difficult to get in.
“Lots of players are fighting to be in the last 23 going to Brazil so I hope this is going to be a great chance for me to keep playing, to keep being fit and to keep showing to the manager of the national team that I want to be there and I have to be there.”
Mata would not say that remaining at Chelsea would have cost him his Spain place.
“I don’t know, now I‘m here, now the moment is here, now I‘m trying to play as much I can to try and help the team,” he added.
“Obviously if things are good in the last part of the season the World Cup is going to be closer for me for sure.”
Spain have drawn Netherlands, Chile and Australia in Group B.
United, who sit 14 points adrift of league leaders Arsenal, were handed a further boost on Monday with injured trio Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Marouane Fellaini back in training, and Mata said he was looking forward to sparking a productive relationship with the England attacker in particular.
“I can’t wait to play alongside him,” Mata said of Rooney.
”For me he’s one of the best players in the history of this country. He’s a striker who can score, assist and come into midfield to take the ball. I will enjoy it.
“For me he’s an unbelievable player and I will try to connect with him as much as possible and find the gaps in rival defenses. I think that’s my best style of play, to get into positions where I can assist the strikers.”
Having struggled for game time in his favored position at Chelsea, Mata could be seen to be in competition with Rooney for a spot just off the main striker.
However the World Cup winner was diplomatic in saying: “I will play anywhere the manager wants me to. I just want to help the team win as many games as they can.”
United’s struggles and the hefty price tag means Mata will be immediately expected to perform, despite not having played since New Year’s Day.
Chelsea’s two-time player of the season said he would thrive on the expectations.
“When people are suspecting big things from you then it’s a challenge but I am looking forward to being successful,” he said.
“This is a massive club. I’ve realized that since I came here and I‘m really glad to be here. This is the club that has won the most trophies and it’s down to me to show people the football I have inside of me.”
($1 = 0.6060 British pounds)
Reporting by Josh Reich; editing by Tony Jimenez and Justin Palmer