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ESPN FC Posted by ESPN staff
Jan 27, 2014

Mata could take United's iconic No. 7

ESPN FC analyst Raphael Honigstein explains why Chelsea sold Juan Mata to their Red Devil rivals.

New Manchester United signing Juan Mata is likely to take the club's famous No. 7 shirt because of his admiration for Eric Cantona, a Croatian journalist has predicted.

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•  Marcotti: Unpacking the deal

Antonio Bevanda, of the 24Sata.hr website, spoke to Mata when he was a Spain under-21 player in 2010 and discovered that the midfield playmaker was "a huge fan."

Mata completed his move to Old Trafford from Chelsea on Saturday -- and that prompted Bevanda to recall the meeting, which happened when Spain's youngsters played in Croatia.

He wrote: "When Mata came out of the locker room a reporter gave him a red shirt, which Mata gave to his mother to put in his bag.

"It seemed to me that it was an Eric Cantona Manchester United shirt, but I wanted to check with Juan. 'Is that a Manchester United shirt?' I asked. He replied: 'Yes, this is United's jersey. I'm a huge fan. I hope that one day I will play at Old Trafford.'"

If Mata does take the No. 7 shirt at United, he will be following a long line of legendary players to have worn it.

Its association with star names began with wingers George Best (who more often wore the No.11) and Steve Coppell. Then, in 1981, Bryan Robson -- who became the longest-serving skipper in United history -- took the number and made it his own.

Cantona, whose surprise arrival from Leeds in 1992 proved to be one of the finest pieces of transfer business ever carried out by Sir Alex Ferguson, took the No. 7 shirt when permanent Premier League squad numbers were adopted for the first time in the 1993–94 season.

When the Frenchman retired in May 1997, midfielder David Beckham, who had come through the ranks at Old Trafford and initially been assigned the No. 10 shirt, took the number on.

But when Cristiano Ronaldo arrived, he initially felt there was too much expectation and pressure surrounding the No. 7 for him to want it to wear it, only for Ferguson to insist.

"After I joined, the manager asked me what number I'd like," Ronaldo recalled. "I said 28. But Ferguson said: 'No, you're going to have No. 7' -- and the famous shirt was an extra source of motivation. I was forced to live up to such an honour."

Since the Portugal skipper's departure from Old Trafford, Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia have worn the No. 7 -- although Valencia swapped back to the No.25 he had first worn on arrival at the club after a difficult season wearing seven.

That means the shirt is currently vacant -- and, if Bevanda is right, tailor-made for Mata.

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