In light of recent events, some may scoff at the "well if Manchester United are bidding for them, they must be available" school of thought, but there was certainly a truth to the possibility of acquiring their previous targets. We must, therefore, work from the assumption that it's no different for Juan Mata, about whom reports last night stated the club made enquiries. This despite Mata being Chelsea's best player. Has Mourinho lost it? Doesn't he know a good footballer when he sees one anymore? Did he point out that he put on weight in Madrid? Possibilities, but alternatively, it's possible that he could simply be suffering from his managerial blind-spot.
All the greats have them - with Alex Ferguson, as we see now, it was midfielders. Yes, he bought Roy Keane, but his record in the position has many, many more black marks against it. Djemba-Djemba, Miller, Alan Smith, Anderson... Kleberson and Juan Sebastian Veron were good players that he signed, but he failed to deploy them correctly. For his counterpart Arsene Wenger, it's goalkeepers and centre-backs. The no-brainer that was Sol Campbell aside, his forays into that territory have largely been disasters. Both were fortunate to inherit such riches in exactly the positions they most struggled to accurately judge talent in.
For Mourinho, however, it's neither of those. It's wingers. Wide players, specifically. Arjen Robben never came close to fulfilling his potential at Chelsea, and while Damien Duff was briefly successful, the purchase was not a great one. There were also the real disasters, among them Ricardo Quaresma, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Mancini. Utilising them has not always been a problem - deploying Samuel Eto'o wide worked, and Angel Di Maria was often exceptional under his tutelage - but identifying talent, not so much.
So perhaps that may be responsible for Mourinho not rating Juan Mata too highly. There are other reasons of course - Mata is Chelsea's best player, but he's also playing in a part of the team where the club are ludicrously well-stocked, with Eden Hazard, Oscar, Kevin de Bruyne, Victor Moses and Andre Schurrle, to say nothing of the potential acquisition of Willian. It is a rare situation, but losing their best player won't impact the quality of their first eleven too much.
Despite that, it seems strange that they'd be willing to sell to Manchester United. Particularly when United themselves are (publicly at least) refusing to even discuss sending Wayne Rooney in the opposite direction, who is some way from being the best player at his club. Yet that could be where the difference lies. It's impossible not to see Chelsea demanding Rooney were they prepared to sell Mata, and it's hard to see United refusing.
In short, it looks like a good deal for everyone involved. Chelsea get a good player in a position they desperately need at the cost of a player they have plenty of replacements for. Manchester United lose a player they need to get rid of, and acquire a marquee signing to negate the PR effects. Wayne Rooney gets to make the move he wanted. Juan Mata gets a huge wage rise. And there are added bonuses for the clubs: Manchester United don't need to worry about improving their rivals, because they're improving themselves more. And Chelsea will have helped United get better, but not too much better, since it still won't cover up their midfield deficiencies.
Everyone's a winner. It's rare that any transfer has that to be said about it, and the complexities of such a deal might explain the months of posturing, counter-posturing and desperation to present a suitably inaccurate facade from all parties involved. Yet if there is a chance of it coming off, it surely represents something of a line of best fit for the interests of all the parties involved, the rest of the Premier League aside.
* * *
It would be easy to mock Arsenal making a move for Mathieu Flamini, but - actually, no, let's do exactly that. Jesus christ, is that a forward-thinking policy? Go back to what didn't work before but failed slightly less spectacularly? Was he the second-choice former midfielder after Cesc Fabregas? Who's the third, Hleb? Is Sol Campbell still going? Have you checked any mid-table Bundesliga clubs aren't interested so you don't get priced out of the market?
As I said, it would be easy. On the other hand, while he was at Milan, Flamini had to compete with quite a few players in midfield, a list including but not entirely limited to Antonio Nocerino, Massimo Ambrosini, Kevin Prince-Boateng, Sulley Muntari, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Riccardo Montolivo, David Beckham, Emerson, Nigel de Jong, Alberto Aquilani and Mark Van Bommel. He still managed to, while not injured, rack up a respectable tally of appearances. Some at right-back, the position in which Arsenal are least weak, granted, but it's a decent effort nonetheless. He's not as awful as some might paint out.
The question is simply whether or not he'll be a backup. Mikel Arteta was probably supposed to be a backup option too, before he got upgraded to a panic buy, and even if Arsenal snap up Flamini tomorrow he may find his status retroactively upgraded should Wenger find himself unable to recruit further reinforcements at the end of the window. Arteta worked out well, but it's still a depressing thought. We've surely heard this song too many times now for another repeat.