Juan Mata: Foot­ball’s ‘Mr Nice Guy’ on chang­ing peo­ple’s lives

Af­ter his beloved grand­fa­ther’s death, Juan Mata helped to set up Com­mon Goal, a char­i­ta­ble scheme to im­prove lives through foot­ball

FourFourTwo - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view An­drew Mur­ray Por­traits Jon Shard

Mon­day, 3.30pm, The Bow­don Ho­tel, a restau­rant in Hale, a Mata favourite

FOURFOURTWO: We’ve never heard of any­thing like Com­mon Goal, es­pe­cially within the foot­ball world, so why did you want to do it?

JUAN MATA: Well it all be­gan when I first met Jur­gen Gries­beck, who’s the CEO of char­ity street­foot­ball­world. For 15 years, Jur­gen has been us­ing foot­ball as a tool to help im­prove so­cial de­vel­op­ment around the world. I’d al­ready been think­ing of us­ing my priv­i­leged po­si­tion as a pro­fes­sional foot­baller to help so­ci­ety for two years or more and, initially, I was think­ing about set­ting up my own foun­da­tion. But af­ter speak­ing with Jur­gen, I set about work­ing on Com­mon Goal. Giv­ing one per cent of my salary, and en­cour­ag­ing other play­ers to fol­low suit, seemed the eas­i­est, most direct and trans­par­ent way to help. Ev­ery­thing flowed from my de­sire to help peo­ple in the de­vel­op­ing world. FFT: Is that some­thing you had al­ways wanted to do? JM: Lis­ten, mate, there’s no doubt that the older you get, the more con­scious you get about what’s go­ing on in the world. Foot­ball’s a way of life for so many peo­ple. I’m well aware of what foot­ball has given me and my fam­ily. Try­ing to im­prove other peo­ple’s lives through the sport I love most is some­thing beau­ti­ful.

FFT: What role have your fam­ily played? Your sis­ter has trav­elled the world and lives in Ice­land…

JM: Paula has this… call­ing. A vo­ca­tion for co­op­er­a­tion in so­ci­ety. She is a ref­er­ence point for me, just like our par­ents and grand­par­ents in the way they brought us up. I don’t know, in life some things mat­ter more than oth­ers. I am part of a so­ci­ety that I know can im­prove, and I feel foot­ball can play a big part in do­ing that, too.

FFT: Your grand­fa­ther Manuel had al­ways been a big ref­er­ence in your foot­ball ca­reer…

JM: Ab­so­lutely. He was and still is, as I think about him a lot – an in­spi­ra­tion.

FFT: How dif­fi­cult was it to deal with his death back in Feb­ru­ary? Is, to some ex­tent, part of the Com­mon Goal project for him?

JM: Yes, there’s a bit of ev­ery­thing in it. He took me to nearly ev­ery train­ing ses­sion I had as a kid, he came to all my matches and taught me the things you need to do to be­come a pro­fes­sional foot­baller. His death was a ham­mer blow for our fam­ily. He didn’t see foot­ball as just sport, but as a kind of so­cial union that was ca­pa­ble of bring­ing peo­ple to­gether.

FFT: Could you be­lieve it when the Ju­ven­tus de­fender Gior­gio Chiellini per­son­ally emailed the Com­mon Goal web­site to of­fer his sup­port?

JM: Pfff, that was in­cred­i­ble. Jur­gen got in touch and said he’d re­ceived this email. He said: ‘I don’t know if it is for real or a joke, but to­mor­row I’m go­ing to be do­ing a Face­time with who­ever it is to find out.’ We made the call and there was Gior­gio. I just couldn’t be­lieve it. He didn’t want any kind of pub­lic­ity for this, but I thought it was worth show­ing other foot­ballers how they could go about join­ing us. I barely knew him – I’d only played against him a cou­ple of times – and I was so proud that some­one like that would get in touch in such a direct and per­sonal way.

FFT: In this world of agents, press teams and so on, did it sur­prise you that some­thing this per­sonal hap­pened?

JM: The truth is that it’s not very com­mon at all. A lot of the play­ers who I’ve spo­ken to about so­cial causes I al­ready knew. But Gior­gio and [Bay­ern Mu­nich’s] Mats Hum­mels, who I didn’t know ei­ther and was one of the first to sign up, have been pro­voked by their own so­cial con­science to be part of this. It shows that, de­spite all stereo­types that ex­ist in foot­ball, first and fore­most we are all hu­man be­ings. It’s easy to live in a bub­ble. This is the world’s top sport – I firmly be­lieve it was nec­es­sary for foot­ball to play a part in so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

FFT: Do you now see the world through dif­fer­ent eyes, since vis­it­ing In­dia this sum­mer?

JM: You see, read or hear in ar­ti­cles or doc­u­men­taries about the con­di­tions that peo­ple are liv­ing in – a lack of san­i­ta­tion, the avail­abil­ity of clean drink­ing wa­ter – but noth­ing can pre­pare you for ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it first-hand. It’s a life of ex­tremes – ex­treme poverty next to huge eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity. What struck me most was the spir­i­tual rich­ness that ev­ery­one has in In­dia, from the haves to the have-nots. I saw one of the or­gan­i­sa­tions street­foot­ball­world is sup­port­ing. The Os­car Foun­da­tion works to bring foot­ball to the slums in Mum­bai and use sport to ed­u­cate chil­dren liv­ing on the street. When you sup­port a project, and ex­pect oth­ers to sup­port it too, it’s cru­cial to ex­pe­ri­ence it your­self. That way, you know where your help is needed most.

FFT: You took a lot of pho­to­graphs while you were out there. How’s life with…

JM: Pho­tog­ra­phy? [Laughs] Oh, I’m lov­ing it, but it’s just a hobby. My girl­friend and I took so many pho­to­graphs in Mum­bai to cre­ate a record of our visit and what the Os­car Foun­da­tion is do­ing. I’ve got no de­sire to be­come a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher – it’s just the per­fect way to show the world around you.

FFT: Your work has been ex­hib­ited at the Na­tional Foot­ball Mu­seum? JM: Yes. It fin­ished a few days ago and will be mov­ing on to the Le­ica Store Manch­ester and Tapeo & Wine restau­rant un­til Christ­mas time. FFT: You must feel some pride see­ing them ex­hib­ited… JM: It’s just an­other way of rais­ing aware­ness. Around 40,000 peo­ple saw the ex­hi­bi­tion at the mu­seum, so more peo­ple now know about Com­mon Goal. I don’t see my work on dis­play and think: ‘Ooh, look at all these peo­ple look­ing at my pho­tos, they’re great art’. No. I wanted to pro­vide an­other leg-up for Com­mon Goal. FFT: Do you con­sider your­self spe­cial, or dif­fer­ent? An idol, per­haps? JM: For do­ing the project? FFT: A lot of peo­ple look up to you be­cause of it... JM: No. No, no, no. Some­one al­ways has to be first. It was im­por­tant for some­one to take the ini­tia­tive, and it hap­pened to be me. I did it for foot­ball, for street­foot­ball­world, for Com­mon Goal and also for try­ing to unite peo­ple. No van­ity, I prom­ise you. FFT: Which is more im­por­tant, in life or foot­ball: the body or the brain? JM: That’s a good ques­tion. Your body goes, moves and does things when the mind is good, lu­cid and has free­dom to de­cide and think. On the pitch you need that men­tal spark to get ahead. It’s the same away from it, too. What goes on in your head is fun­da­men­tal. You need that con­fi­dence to try things.

FFT: A lot of peo­ple say that you’re the nicest man in foot­ball. There’s Com­mon Goal, you have given money to Real Oviedo… JM: They’re the team of my city, my heart. FFT: But you still do­nated the money. Are you foot­ball’s Mr Nice Guy? JM: [Laughs] No, no chance! There are plenty out there nicer than me. Look, with Oviedo, the club were in dire fi­nan­cial prob­lems. I grew up in the city, I came through the Oviedo youth team. I helped out be­cause the club would have dis­ap­peared if I’d sat back and done noth­ing and the pub­lic would have lost their club. That couldn’t hap­pen and now they’re fight­ing to get back to La Liga again. FFT: Do you know what you will do af­ter you re­tire? JM: Not re­ally. If you’d asked me a while ago if I’d be­come a coach, I’d have said def­i­nitely not, but now I’m not so sure. I want to re­main in­volved with Com­mon Goal in some form. It’s part of what com­pletes me. FFT: What’s your ear­li­est foot­ball mem­ory? JM: Prob­a­bly go­ing to one of my fa­ther’s train­ing ses­sions in Sala­manca be­fore we moved to Oviedo, where he was a pro­fes­sional. Me and my sis­ter were born nearby in Bur­gos and were al­ways play­ing with this enor­mous blow-up ball around the house – my mum hated that! FFT: We bet she was glad to get you out the house and into a team… JM: Later, in Oviedo, I started play­ing for my lo­cal team, La Fresneda, and then for Ju­ven­tud Es­ta­dio. It was here I learned what it was like to play for a team, in games and what po­si­tions to take up. When Real Oviedo signed me up at the age of 12, it was the best thing that had ever hap­pened to me. FFT: What went through your head when you found out Real Madrid were in­ter­ested a few years later? JM: I was in shock. Play­ing at the Car­los Tartiere sta­dium had been the max­i­mum for me. Real Oviedo were the best team in As­turias and all my friends sup­ported them. ‘This is as good as it gets’, I thought. Then Real Madrid and other teams from across the coun­try came in for me. I couldn’t be­lieve it. I’d played against them in tour­na­ments all around Spain and al­ways thought that their play­ers were so much bet­ter than me. More hand­some. Def­i­nitely taller! [Laughs] To pull on that white shirt was fan­tas­tic. Mov­ing away from your friends and fam­ily at 15 is not easy and it was hard at the be­gin­ning, but I knew that mov­ing to Madrid was the best way for me to con­tinue my foot­balling ed­u­ca­tion. FFT: I lived in Spain for a year. The first month there was the hard­est thing I’ve ever done… JM: It made me ma­ture a lot ear­lier than a nor­mal 15-year-old. Liv­ing in digs and hav­ing that re­spon­si­bil­ity to look af­ter your­self, to com­ply with the rules of an adult world and keep up with your stud­ies, forces you to get to know the sort of per­son you are. You’re alone with new friends you’ve only just met. It in­forms and de­vel­ops your per­son­al­ity at a cru­cial age. I made friends for life while I was in Madrid – friends who I still speak to reg­u­larly. FFT: Why did you go to Va­len­cia in 2007? JM: Well, my Real Madrid con­tract was up. Va­len­cia called and spoke about the con­fi­dence they had in me and that I would be part of the first-team squad. It was a risky de­ci­sion, but I had four great sea­sons there. I im­proved so much at the Mestalla and un­der­stood what it was to be a pro­fes­sional, as this was a Cham­pi­ons League dress­ing room. FFT: So was Chelsea’s – was it des­tiny to win the Cham­pi­ons League with the Blues in 2012? JM: With­out a doubt. I lived and loved ev­ery minute at Chelsea. First year: Cham­pi­ons League and FA Cup. Sec­ond sea­son: Europa League. I was the player of the year, but that Cham­pi­ons League, wow. We all thought we were out when we lost 3-1 against Napoli in the last 16, but fought back. It was nearly all lost in the Camp Nou when we were los­ing 2-0 just be­fore half-time. It felt like there was an en­tire world in front of us to reach the fi­nal, but we got there. FFT: What did ev­ery­one make of Gary Neville’s ‘or­gas­mic’ com­men­tary for Fer­nando Tor­res’ stop­page-time clincher? It’s fair to say that was played quite a few times in our of­fice... JM: We heard it loads, too. It was a huge goal from Fer­nando. Barça had ev­ery player for­ward, be­cause if they scored they were through. I gen­uinely heard the shouts from the crowd. When I heard about Neville later, I knew… he had a great voice. [Laughs] FFT: And what about the fi­nal? JM: Well, it was def­i­nitely lost when Thomas Muller scored in the 83rd minute! I’ll never for­get the sound of the ball as it went in off the cross­bar, in Bay­ern Mu­nich’s own sta­dium. But I felt that it couldn’t end like this, that we were go­ing to win. Des­tiny was telling us the way to go for Chelsea’s first, and so far only, Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle. FFT: Even when you missed Chelsea’s first penalty in the shootout? JM: I’d miss that penalty – and a thou­sand more like it – if it meant we’d win that match. FFT: Fair point. JM: But at the time I def­i­nitely wasn’t quite so sure we’d win! I thought des­tiny had es­caped me, but Petr Cech saved me.

FFT: Af­ter all those bril­liant mo­ments, in­clud­ing play­ing in an FA Cup fi­nal, was it hard to leave Stam­ford Bridge?

JM: Yes. I can’t lie. It was a com­pli­cated time, be­cause of the care the club, play­ers and fans had al­ways shown me. I wasn’t play­ing as much as I was used to and it was the sort of sit­u­a­tion I hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. When you’re happy at a club, it’s hard to take that de­ci­sion to leave, but I think it was the best so­lu­tion for all. The club got a good of­fer from Manch­ester United and I signed for an­other fan­tas­tic club.

FFT: Ev­ery­one spoke about your re­la­tion­ship with Jose Mour­inho af­ter that. Then he joins United. What were you think­ing?

JM: What was I think­ing? Firstly, that I had no kind of per­sonal prob­lem with him, no mat­ter what the press said. And se­condly, that I wanted to show what I could bring to the team, to prove my­self. That was the im­por­tant thing, to do your talk­ing on the pitch. It’s a chal­lenge in my ca­reer that I’m proud to have con­fronted head on.

FFT: Did it frus­trate you even more that the same sto­ries resur­faced af­ter Mour­inho sub­sti­tuted you, hav­ing come on as a sub­sti­tute, in the 2016 Com­mu­nity Shield against Le­ices­ter?

JM: Pfff, yeah it did. In that spe­cific mo­ment, for that spe­cific change, you’ve got to know Mour­inho to un­der­stand his rea­sons. I’d come on af­ter an hour, we were win­ning. There were six sub­sti­tu­tions al­lowed and he had one left. He wanted to waste time and break the game up. He’s a pragmatist – he says so him­self. So, his think­ing is: ‘If they get the ball, they’re go­ing to go long into the box. I’m go­ing to take off the small­est guy’. That’s his rea­son­ing. I un­der­stood it, be­cause he’d told me what he was go­ing to do be­fore the change. Later on, be­cause of what hap­pened at Chelsea, the me­dia digs up the past. I was happy be­cause we’d won. His rea­sons for mak­ing the change were what they were, and I wasn’t go­ing to ques­tion them. There was, and isn’t, any prob­lem with him. FFT: Which of last sea­son’s three tro­phies was the most im­por­tant? JM: Def­i­nitely the Europa League, as it was a tour­na­ment United had never won. It came im­me­di­ately af­ter the dread­ful ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Manch­ester and, at least for the tini­est mo­ment, we could make our city’s peo­ple that lit­tle bit hap­pier. It was a chance for us to re­turn to the Cham­pi­ons League, which is fun­da­men­tal for this club.

FFT: You reg­u­larly go to gigs and so­cialise around the city. How have the Manch­ester at­tacks changed the area?

JM: The re­ac­tion of the city was in­cred­i­ble. Manch­ester came to­gether, re­gard­less of race, re­li­gion, pol­i­tics or foot­ball team. Ev­ery­one helped any­one in need at that mo­ment. It showed the union and hu­man­ity that there is in this great city. It showed that there are far more good peo­ple in this world than bad. FFT: That’s cer­tainly the im­pres­sion we’ve al­ways had… JM: Ev­ery­one is very friendly. That day more than any other proved it. FFT: Mov­ing onto this sea­son, de­scribe the un­der­stand­ing you’ve got with Romelu Lukaku.

JM: I’ve known him since we were at Chelsea to­gether, and we both made our de­buts in a game against Nor­wich. A long time has passed since then, but he’s de­vel­oped so much. He’s a great lad, with a huge heart and I’m so happy he’s with us. He’s great for the dress­ing room and helps out on the pitch, not just with his goals but a gen­eral work ethic.

FFT: And what do you make of his fel­low striker, Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic? JM: You look a bit like him, you know! FFT: We’ll take that... JM: But, Zla­tan. Wow. What can you say? He’s such a mas­sive part of foot­ball history. He is ex­actly as he seems. In the dress­ing room, his sense of hu­mour – the ironic way he talks about him­self – is al­ways present, but he’s a win­ner. Look at the way he has come back from his in­jury. It takes a cer­tain type of per­son to do that. When he’s fully fit, he’ll bring a lot to this team. FFT: Is there any­thing that par­tic­u­larly sticks in your mind? JM: The day he ar­rived, we were away on pre-sea­son, so he was on his own with the kit men at the train­ing ground. They had never met him be­fore and he’s the sort of guy that gar­ners in­stant re­spect be­cause of the way he car­ries him­self [pumps out his chest]. Zla­tan ap­par­ently looked the kit men up and down and said: ‘I hope you know God has ar­rived’. The kit men were shak­ing and didn’t know what to think, then he fell about laugh­ing with them. He al­ways does that. FFT: Ap­par­ently, when they were at Mi­lan, Gen­naro Gat­tuso used to throw bot­tle tops at him. Zla­tan said if he didn’t stop he’d put him in the near­est bin. Gat­tuso didn’t stop… JM: And he put him in the bin? FFT: Ab­so­lutely. JM: Yeah, that’s Zla­tan! [Laughs] FFT: Let’s talk about Spain. You were a mem­ber of the squads that won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 but have missed out re­cently – do you think you will make it to the World Cup? JM: Def­i­nitely. I’ve not lost my con­fi­dence or de­sire to go to Rus­sia. I think I’m still the same player that went to, and won, the World Cup and the Eu­ros, ex­cept with more ex­pe­ri­ence. We had, at that time, the best gen­er­a­tion in Span­ish history and I was lucky to be part of that team. Ob­vi­ously there are some younger play­ers com­ing through, but I feel like I’m in a per­fect mo­ment of my ca­reer and I want to go to Rus­sia. I’m con­fi­dent Julen [Lopetegui, Spain’s head coach] will take me. I want more.

FFT: How does win­ning the World Cup and Eu­ros com­pare? JM: The World Cup is in­com­pa­ra­ble. Spain had al­ready won Euro 2008 to kick off a cy­cle no one’s ever achieved. Win­ning the World Cup was in­de­scrib­able. They were the hap­pi­est days of my ca­reer. FFT: In­clud­ing scor­ing the fourth in the fi­nal of Euro 2012? JM: Also in­cred­i­ble. I had only just come on, so to put the ic­ing on the cake of a golden pe­riod with a 4-0 win was amaz­ing. FFT: How do you re­lax away from foot­ball? JM: It’s im­por­tant that you dis­con­nect from foot­ball with a so­cial life, be­cause this is a height­ened, quicker way to live. I like to travel, spend time with my fam­ily, take pho­tos, lis­ten to mu­sic, watch films and read. I like Nick Hornby’s books. FFT: What was the last film you saw? JM: A Span­ish film last week called 100 Me­tres. It stars Dani Rovira and is the true story of a guy suf­fer­ing from mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, who doc­tors have said won’t be able to walk 100 me­tres. He ended up fin­ish­ing an Iron­man! It’s an in­cred­i­ble story. FFT: Fi­nally, what does foot­ball mean to you? JM: Hap­pi­ness, en­joy­ment and a healthy way of life. It’s a way to unite peo­ple like noth­ing I’ve ever seen. Foot­ball is more than just win­ning, los­ing or even tak­ing part. It’s a fan­tas­tic sport that gives peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to bet­ter them­selves. It doesn’t mat­ter who you are, what you do or where you’ve come from, any­body can try to be the best – foot­ball is pas­sion.

FFT: You’ve prob­a­bly heard the quote be­fore, but the le­gendary for­mer Liver­pool man­ager Bill Shankly fa­mously once said that: ‘Foot­ball isn’t a mat­ter of life and death, it’s more im­por­tant than that…’ JM: Haha, yes, I’ve heard that. FFT: Do you agree? It would seem not… JM: No, you’re right. Jorge Val­dano [the ex-real Madrid for­ward who won the 1986 World Cup with Ar­gentina] once said, ‘El fút­bol es lo más im­por­tante en­tre las cosas menos im­por­tantes’ – Foot­ball is the most im­por­tant of the least im­por­tant things in the world. From where I’m sit­ting, there are more im­por­tant things in the world – fam­ily, friends and health – than whether or not you win a game of foot­ball. It’s all rel­a­tive. Look, I’m a pro­fes­sional. This is my life and my pas­sion and my ded­i­ca­tion to this sport is to­tal, but there’s more to life than foot­ball.

“THERE IS n O PERSO n AL PROB­LEM BE­TWEEN ME A n D MOURI n HO. HE TOOK ME OFF I n THE COM­MU­NITY SHIELD LAST YEAR BE­CAUSE HE’S A PRAGMATIST. I U NDERSTOOD HIS DECISIO n”

Right Mata won the Copa del Rey in his first sea­son at Va­len­cia in 2008 af­ter scor­ing 10 goals for Real Madrid’s re­serves (be­low)

Anti-clock­wise from right Mata may have missed in the shootout but still got his hands on the Euro­pean Cup in 2012; hav­ing tasted World Cup glory two years ear­lier; Juan then added a Europa League win­ner’s medal to his man­tel­piece with Manch­ester United in May; prior to vis­it­ing In­dia as a part of Com­mon Goal

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.