Juan Mata at Harper’s Bazaar España
Samanta Villar was onto something there when she said, “¡porrr fa-vorrrr Juan Ma-ta!,” because Juan Mata is adorable, intelligent and a great guy (and it just makes sense that he and Esteban Granero are best friends, no?). You can see all of this and more in this interview in the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar España. I’m glad Juanín is getting more media attention; he (and we) deserves it!
Juan Mata (Burgos 1988) is one of those players who possesses the talent that made Spain the world champion and a breeding ground for talented players. Spanish football urgently needed a style (save the mustache of Marquis Del Bosque) to get to where it is now, to shine in the same way on the field as it had on billboards. It’s a product, perhaps the only one, that attractively sells the ‘made in Spain concept.’ This summer, Juan won the U-21 Euro and a spot in the 2012 Olympic Games with La Rojita.
So young and already a world champion, how do you feel on this anniversary of the win in South Africa?
In the moment that we did it, we weren’t really conscious of the dimensions of what we had achieved. With the passing of time, and now that it’s close to the first anniversary, you realize that you were part of the first generation of Spanish world champions… it’s incredible.
You’re almost like a movie star.
Yes, yes, it’s fantastic. Your life changes: people recognize you on the streets, they respect you even in rival stadiums… the more time passes, the more you’ll realize that that summer in South Africa was one of the best ones in our lives.
A beautiful, educated Spain that knows how to save energy, speak languages and play football… that was unthinkable a decade ago.
I was lucky enough to be part of this World Cup and see for myself the good atmosphere that exists between this generation of footballers. We’ve transcended the teams that we belong to to become like a family that shares that same interests, that can talk about things besides football… that is reflected on the field and helps us to become champions. We’re champions in football and also in good relationships.
Do you think this good relationship will continue after the chain of confrontations between Madrid and Barcelona?
When you’re defending a common good, you set aside any rivalry between clubs. In addition, we have a coach who knows how to manage this issue very well and I don’t think there are any problems. We’re all intelligent enough not to make this into a big deal.
These days, footballers get married early, have children early, you don’t live like normal people your age…
Yes, that’s true. I often compare myself with my friends from Oviedo, whom I continue hanging out with, and I note that our lives aren’t similar. They’re finishing their studies, going outside of Spain on Erasmus, or living with their parents, in contrast to professional players who had to mature much earlier. I went to Madrid when I was just 15 and that makes you mature. The truth is, I consider myself privileged to have this life.
Do you fear retirement, that the world will end when you hang up your boots?
Of course. When a footballer ends his career, he’s still at an age where he’s considered young by societal standards, so that’s why you can’t neglect your studies or other things that you can do later on.
It’s a cliché, but I suppose that you had to give up a lot to become an elite athlete…
Yes and no. Yes, because you can’t do the things that normal people your age do, especially in going out or traveling, but this sacrifice didn’t bother me. I like what I do a lot.
I remember that years ago, Benítez prevented Valencia’s players from eating paella… are things still that extreme?
I don’t remember that because I hadn’t joined the team yet. That depends on the medical staff of the club, but it is true that you have to live a healthy and balanced life because at the end of the day, you’re competing each week and you can’t have a disorganized life, not emotionally and not when it comes to diet…
And no sex in the concentraciones.
In the concentraciones, it’s difficult because it’s only the team and the coaching staff. But during the World Cup, we had free days and each one had their female friends or wives there and they could do what they wanted. I believe sex is a great way to relieve tension.
Due to cases in track and field and cycling, many foreigners think Spain is a paradise for doping…
It’s bad news and something very negative for sports in general, and for football especially because it’s a very popular sport in Spain. I believe that in football, this supposed boost you get from doping substances is not as important as it is in other sports, so I don’t see how the suspicions can be logical. In football, sometimes talent and intelligence are more important than physique. Having said this, I don’t like it when I hear about doping in track and field or cycling. It’s bad for the country.
Spanish football is now the model that has triumphed in the world…
Look, in the end, football is played with the ball. If you’re physically strong, then you’ve won part of it, but it’s not the most definitive thing. Spain has many players who are small in stature but huge in talent. For example, the last Ballon d’Or that went to Messi in which Xavi and Iniesta were finalists. Three small but enormous players.
Fortunately, no! But there are always coaches or club philosophies of the type “if a winger is shorter than this height, then he’s not worth it…” It’s not fair.
You live quite a discrete life, far from the flashes, without tattoos, without bombshell women, without Ferraris…
I try to lead a normal and simple life. That’s what my parents instilled in me: to be normal no matter who you are or what you have. I try to behave like that. My life has changed a lot, but the essence is still the same.
At the age of 23, is it necessary to go abroad, or do you prefer staying in Valencia?
Going abroad could be a very positive experience, but I don’t know when it will happen, to tell you the truth. I haven’t planned for anything. The day that I left Asturias for Madrid was also important, with that fear that you hold inside in case things don’t go right… the same thing happened to me when I came to Valencia and here I’ve grown a lot as a footballer and to tell you the truth, I believe I can continue growing.
I suppose that your biggest dream right now will be to participate in the 2012 Olympic Games…
It’s one of my short-term goals. The Olympic Games are a unique experience, the maximum, for an athlete. I’ve had teammates such as Marchena who have experienced it and he told me that it was something to live for.
With the small boys (La Rojita), you’re the number 10, with the big boys (La Roja), you’re a substitute on the bench, which do you prefer?
I’ll be egotistical and say that in the summer of 2012, I would like to play in London and in the Eurocopa. There’s a month between the two. But we’ll see… in addition, the Olympic Games are every four years.
A short while ago, it was unthinkable to see women playing football on any field in Spain. Today, women’s football is widely accepted and strongly supported. How do you see it?
I think it’s phenomenal. Football is not a sport that’s just for men. In addition, there are women who play wonderfully. I know it because I’ve seen Valencia’s women’s team play. They have all the right in the world to shine and I’m sure that with the passing of time, they will shine more.
The photoshoot took place at Valencia’s Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències.