When he returned to his old stomping ground, he was greeted like a homecoming hero.

Juan Mata was applauded by fans of the club he was now playing against, and had his name chanted as he returned the favour.

Afterwards, as he left his former home ground, a group of supporters wished him well with an improvised bedsheet telegram, telling him we would be welcome back any time.

All of this happened in the late summer evening sunshine of The Mestalla: as Mata, by now a Chelsea player, starred in a 1-1 Champions League group stages game five years ago against Valencia.

But it is a scene that has followed the immensely likeable cult figure throughout his career.

At Chelsea, affection is shown in different ways. But there was no mistaking the fact that, aside from the return in enemy colours of bona fide legends such as Didier Drogba and Jose Mourinho, few have received the warm and genuine welcome Mata had when he came back with United.

Held back: Jose Mourinho ditched the Spaniard

So why not make that move permanent? Why not bring Mata back 'home' to Chelsea?

The Spaniard inspires this form of adoration for many reasons, but principally because he is more than just a footballer.

He is the man a lot of us would love to be: honest, amiable, cultured.

It also helps that he is intelligently spoken, good looking, and owns a fine wardrobe.

His approach to football, to life, is something a lot of us envy: his well-written blogs, while in London, read as a script that was part Time Out, part Rough Guide to England.

The trips off on the Tube, with his backpack, to learn about the city and country that had adopted him, made him a man of the people.

Just as has comments about football fandom, and the way a game growing obese on cash had created a gulf between players and those who pay their wages, further escalated him in the esteem of many.

Video thumbnail, Watch: Juan Mata reveals the five things he loves most about football
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On-pitch of course, where he ably earned his share of that cash, he was a sensation.

In the early days at Chelsea, he was most likened to that legend of legends: Gianfranco Zola.

The God-given ability, the passion for the beautiful game, the genial approach to football that meant he could be loved not just for what he did, but for the genuine way in which he did it.

He was a rare case of a player that even opposition fans would occasionally applaud.

Mata's Chelsea career was turbulent – through no fault of his own making.

Andre Villas-Boas was the man who persuaded him his future lay in west London, and the two clearly had a strong bond.

But the upheaval caused by first his sacking, then that of Roberto Di Matteo; and the uncertainty of the temporary reign of his countryman Rafael Benitez, took him out of his comfort zone.

Of course, during this period he absolutely excelled: twice Chelsea player of the season, and lifting the Champions League and Europa League trophies along the way.

Chelsea v SL Benfica - 2013 UEFA Europa League Final
Trophy Boy: Juan Mata

But we knew, and he knew, the writing would be on the wall when another former hero returned.

Mata excelled in those sides, because Chelsea tended to work a system which gave him freedom.

A flair player, he was allowed the space to create, without the need to commit himself to the bread and butter of defending.

It is an argument at the heart of football whether it is better to indulge such players for the beauty of the game, or to win at all costs.

And there was never any doubt as to which side of that argument Mourinho stood on.

Mata's days were numbered at Stamford Bridge from the day the Portuguese stepped back through the door. As most believe is now the case at Old Trafford.

In pictures: Mata's return to west London

Mourinho doesn't do 'luxury' players.

So back to Chelsea, then?

Well, the bad news for Mata's fans in blue, is that Antonio Conte doesn't do 'luxury' either.

There is no doubt that Mata is a great player.

But the Premier League, particularly at it's higher end, has become a place where the greatness of the individual counts for little.

The team ethic is all: Mourinho knew that when he led Chelsea to three titles; Claudio Ranieri knew it when he climbed to the summit utterly improbably this season with Leicester City.

For all the fantasy backpacking trips, the word perfect English, the love of London and Manchester culture: Mata is a fish out of water in England.

What he really needs to do is to take a plunge back in the wide open ocean of La Liga: where he will have the freedom to create, and again look like a genius.

Chelsea are all for retreading old ground: Mourinho, Drogba, Nemenja Matic, maybe Romelu Lukaku.

But for Mata, sadly, it seems his Chelsea days are now in the past.

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Should Chelsea bring Juan Mata back?