Manchester United manager David Moyes has insisted Juan Mata should not be judged on the basis of his 37.1 million-pound fee.
Mata, 25, became the most expensive player in the club’s history when manager Moyes signed him from Chelsea in January.
But Mata, who has made eight appearances since his arrival, is yet to score his first United goal and Moyes has faced questions as to whether he is getting the best out of the Spain international.
The Scot told a news conference on Monday: “I don’t think you should look too much into the transfer fee -- you should look at what his qualities are. There will be a lot of inflated prices on transfers but that’s the way the market is now.”
Mata has only started two of his eight United games in his preferred central role but, with top scorer Robin van Persie injured, he operated as a No. 10, behind sole striker Wayne Rooney, in Saturday’s 2-0 win at West Ham.
And Moyes said: “There isn’t any club in Europe or the world who wouldn’t want Robin van Persie playing centre-forward for them, and for us it’s a massive miss. He changed the Champions League game [against Olympiakos] with the goals he scored but I’ve got to say that Juan Mata came to play two or three different positions.
“You’re never going to go through a season where you don’t have injuries and players will be injured. You can’t always have Wayne Rooney fit for every game or Robin van Persie fit for every game. That’s why you need a squad of players. I think that Juan’s come in and played very well on Saturday. He’s done well in all the games but on Saturday he was closer to scoring himself and maybe should have on a couple of occasions.”
In Van Persie’s absence, Rooney took on more responsibility and scored both goals at West Ham, including a spectacular opener from 57 yards.
And Moyes added: “His form throughout the season has been very good, and his goal capped off what everybody is aware of what he is capable of. He’s spoken about a lot -- he’s talked about because of the ability he has got as a footballer.
“More important for me is how he has played for the team. From the first game, he’s been a great team player.”
Moyes believes Rooney, who has signed a new five-and-a-half year contract to stay at United until 2019, could be one of the pivotal players in Tuesday’s derby against Manchester City at Old Trafford.
He said: “I don’t know if he’ll be the key man because this game has got many, many top class players in it so I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s the main man, but he’s one of them.”