By Rob Harris ,AP
LONDON — Manchester United is closing in on signing Juan Mata after bidding 37 million pounds (US$61 million) for the Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata, the team’s first move in the January transfer window.
United is waiting for its English Premier League rival to sign off on the club-record deal for the 25-year-old Spain international, a person close to negotiations said on Thursday. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal has not yet been finalized.
Mata is yet to have a medical examination at United, which is in no rush to complete the deal as its next match is not until Tuesday against Cardiff.
The transfer would eclipse the 30.7 million pounds United paid to sign striker Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham in 2008, and show that the American owners are willing to spend to revitalize a struggling team.
Mata’s move could speed up now Chelsea has struck a deal with Swiss club Basel to sign Mohamed Salah. The Egypt midfielder still has to agree to personal terms and pass a medical with the London club.
In a sign that Mata’s departure from Chelsea is nearing after falling out of favor, the club’s player of the year for the last two seasons did not train with the first team on Wednesday.
“He has great skill, great imagination, flair and goal-scoring ability,” former United defender Gary Pallister said. “A lot of people can’t quite understand why he has not been in Jose Mourinho’s team after being player of the year for the last two seasons.
“He is the kind of player Manchester United fans want to see … and can get people off their seats in anticipation of the things he can do with a football.”
Signing Mata would be a coup for United manager David Moyes, and lift some of the gloom surrounding recent performances.
The bright spot is still remaining in Champions League contention going into the round of 16 against Olympiakos next month.
But the team is seventh in the league, 14 points behind leader Arsenal, and facing a fight to secure one of the four Champions League places.
Having already exited the FA Cup, United missed out on a spot in the League Cup final on Wednesday when Sunderland won a penalty shootout at Old Trafford.
One fan was so distressed about the loss that he called an emergency number and asked to speak to former manager Alex Ferguson, who retired in May after more than 26 trophy-filled years in charge of United.
“Last night, at approximately 10:30 p.m. a man from the Crumpsall area of north Manchester rang 999 in a drunken state demanding to speak to Sir Alex Ferguson about last night’s result,” Greater Manchester Police said on one of its Facebook pages.
“Obviously, it can be a sad and depressing moment when your football team loses a game, however can we all please remember that 999 is to be used for emergencies only.”