Juan Mata mas­ter­class

The play­maker re­veals how to give big de­fend­ers the slip

Australian Four Four Two - - CONTENTS -

Hola, Juan. How does a small player such as your­self sur­vive in a di­vi­sion as phys­i­cal as the Premier League?

It’s a good ques­tion! In Eng­land there are many big and strong play­ers, which means that I have to think a bit more, be­cause of the big dif­fer­ence in size be­tween my­self and a lot of play­ers. If you’re not tall or strong you have to move ear­lier and try to find the spa­ces be­fore your ri­val. The men­tal side of the game is re­ally im­por­tant for the smaller play­ers – if you try to stand toe-to-toe with a big­ger man, it’s very dif­fi­cult to come out on top.

Do you adapt your game against fast or strong de­fend­ers?

It de­pends on whether you have the ball or the de­fender has the ball. If he has pos­ses­sion, I make sure I’m smart tac­ti­cally and pick up good po­si­tions to stop him from run­ning into space or mak­ing a key pass. If I have the ball, I make sure my first touch is good – that’s re­ally im­por­tant. I also like to play one-twos with my team-mates, try­ing to draw him out of po­si­tion. It’s all about trick­ing him, and you have to think re­ally quickly.

You’re very good at find­ing lit­tle pock­ets of space in a match – is that some­thing you work on?

When I’m look­ing to find some space in which to re­ceive the ball, some of that is in­stinc­tive. I have a nat­u­ral feel now for where the ball is go­ing to go, be­cause I have played the game for so many years. How­ever, this is still some­thing that you can prac­tise in train­ing. I know it sounds like re­ally ob­vi­ous ad­vice, but you need to think: where can I po­si­tion my body to re­ceive the ball best? Where is there likely to be more space? It’s im­por­tant to have a good sense of ori­en­ta­tion, as this will en­able you to make the right de­ci­sions in dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the pitch and be de­ci­sive when the time comes.

What’s the se­cret to keep­ing pos­ses­sion in tight spa­ces?

You need to look around – 360 de­grees – all the time be­fore you re­ceive the ball. You need to know where you are, where your team-mates are and where the op­po­si­tion play­ers are. When you watch Span­ish play­ers, you’ll see they al­ways do this. Xavi is prob­a­bly the very best in the world at it. He is not that quick phys­i­cally, but he’s ex­tremely quick in his mind and that’s one of the key qual­i­ties that great play­ers pos­sess.

Do you work on strength in the gym?

I use the gym three times per week, but it al­ways de­pends on how many games we have. If we have two or three games in quick suc­ces­sion, we can’t do too much, as we need to fo­cus on re­cov­ery. We do ses­sions that work both the legs and the up­per body. Even though I’m phys­i­cally tiny I still make sure I do my phys­i­cal work as well, so that I avoid in­juries and have a good base level of strength with which to shield the ball.

Are there any ex­er­cises you think are im­por­tant for play­mak­ers?

There are many ar­eas of fit­ness that you need to work on. I do a lot of core and co-or­di­na­tion work – I think it’s good to work on the link be­tween the brain and your legs and feet. I also fo­cus on re­ac­tion work for the feet and jump­ing ex­er­cises to im­prove power. I be­lieve in fit­ness that is spe­cific for the pitch. I al­ways want to do things that I am go­ing to be re­peat­ing dur­ing a match. You must train phys­i­cally, but ori­en­tated to­wards the game.

What do you do to help your body re­cover af­ter train­ing or a match?

When I lived in Spain I en­joyed an af­ter­noon siesta, but it’s some­thing I’ve stopped do­ing since I moved to Eng­land be­cause the cul­ture is very dif­fer­ent. I re­cover by do­ing lots of stretch­ing and pool work, trans­fer­ring be­tween hot and cold wa­ter. I also eat lots of qual­ity food to make sure I re­cover from train­ing and games as quickly as pos­si­ble. You can’t get away with eat­ing and drink­ing what­ever you want – if you want a long ca­reer at the top level, you have to be dis­ci­plined.

What types of food do you eat in or­der to fuel your per­for­mance?

I eat break­fast at the train­ing ground and nor­mally I’ll have some toast and a ba­nana so that I have plenty of car­bo­hy­drates in my sys­tem be­fore train­ing. I also like a glass of orange juice, and a cof­fee to wake me up. We have a great chef, Mike, who makes fish dishes at lunchtime. I of­ten eat salmon and pasta, par­tic­u­larly be­fore matches. It’s a meal that has al­ways made me feel re­ally en­er­getic be­fore I play. Drink­ing lots of wa­ter is also key as it helps to keep me hy­drated. At home, I like to cook some­thing my­self for din­ner. A dish I eat a lot is fabada, which is a rich Span­ish bean stew. It’s prob­a­bly my big­gest meal of the day and keeps me full be­fore bed.

Juan Mata is the first global am­bas­sador for street­foot­ball­world, a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion which works with over 100 com­pa­nies across 67 coun­tries to help 1.2 mil­lion young peo­ple through foot­ball

“I have to think more, play­ing in Eng­land: if you aren’t tall or strong, you must move ear­lier and try to find spa­ces”

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