José Mourinho has dismissed Arsène Wenger's suggestion that Chelsea are manipulating the transfer market and title race by selling Juan Mata to Manchester United. He even claimed he would have permitted the Spain international to join Arsenal had they lodged their own £40m offer for the player.
Wenger, while conceding Chelsea are operating within the rules, had complained over the timing of the sale, given that Mourinho's team have already played United twice this season and Mata, the champions' record signing, will be eligible to feature against Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool before the end of the campaign. The Spaniard's transfer was signed off on Friday night and Chelsea are keen to reinvest some of the fee to sign Mohamed Salah from Basel for an initial £12m.
Mourinho claimed Wenger's complaint was "normal". "This is the market," he said. "We don't make the market, we don't make the rules. We just act according to the rules. If Wenger sells [Mesut] Özil to Man United in this moment, I would be very happy because he's selling a very important player. So, normally, he should be very happy that Chelsea sold a player like Juan Mata.
"But I think it's also a bit of his nature. We have to accept the way he is. He's a very intelligent man, someone who always has an opinion and who likes to show his opinion.
"This is football. I think it's unfair I play twice against Southampton but now [Dejan] Lovren is injured and won't play against Arsenal. Is that fair? That's life. Should I call [Mauricio] Pochettino and say: 'Don't play against Arsenal. You must wait for Lovren to be ready. I want you to play Lovren and [José] Fonte because, against me, you played Fonte and Lovren. Now I want you to play Arsenal, against City with Fonte and Lovren.'"
Mourinho, who sanctioned Michael Essien's departure to Milan on a free transfer, admitted the size of United's bid for Mata simply could not be ignored. "If it had been Arsenal or City or Liverpool instead of Man United, we would have done the same," said Mourinho. "If the offer was the same and Juan had desired to go, it would have been the same. A team can only play with 11 players, not 12. City, Arsenal and United are full of top players, so if Juan plays for them it means somebody else is not playing. So why not? Other clubs contacted us, but only United made an offer that reflected the potential of the player, and what the player means to Chelsea."
There has been dismay in some quarters at the sale of the London club's two-times player of the year, even with his role in the first-team having been reduced to 11 league starts this term. Yet Mourinho argued selling a player of this calibre to a rival actually showed Chelsea had progressed. "We are becoming a big club in every aspect. In the beginning we needed cups, silverware to make us and help us become a big club. Now we are a big, mature club. This decision was made by a group of people all with different perspectives but with one common interest: what is best for Chelsea?
"There were those who were looking at the economics, and it was a fantastic offer. Chelsea sold a player for almost double what we paid. As a purely football decision, I'd have preferred to keep Juan because he's a player who can help us achieve important objectives, but our scouting department had quickly identified two or three players who could replace him – not a direct replacement because Juan is a champion – and those factors, coupled with the fact Juan desired to go, made our decision. We did two deals, Juan and Kevin De Bruyne [for £18m to Wolfsburg], and put ourselves in a very good position in relation to financial fair play."
After arriving in Milan last night, Essien said: "I'm happy to be here. I will do my best for Milan and I hope to be ready to play. I spoke with Mr [Clarence] Seedorf [the Milan head coach] two days ago. I cannot wait to be available. I really want to thank the chairman and the team and thanks to Mourinho, who has allowed me to wear the Rossoneri shirt."