(PF) Juan Mata at Minuto 116
PF Juan Mata is on the cover of the May issue of magazine Minuto 116 (can you guess what the name of the magazine – Minute 116 – refers to?), and inside, over half of the magazine is dedicated to him! There’s a great (and super, super long) interview with Juanín, a piece written by his sister PF Paula Mata, an interview with his grandfather, and his friends’ views of him, among other articles. All of them paint a picture of a footballer who is also a normal person, in addition to being funny, humble, and well, also muy guapo.
The Juan Mata interview.
If I say Los del Río and their hit “Macarena,” what comes to mind?
(Laughs) What comes to mind is a pathetic, shameful image… the entire team looking at me, Fernando Torres and Oriol (Romeu) filming me with their phones and me in the center of the dining room singing and doing the movements. It’s something that all players have to do when they first come to Chelsea, during the dinner of the first away game. That night, I didn’t eat anything because I knew what was awaiting me. They put a chair in the middle of the dining room and you have to stand up on it and sing and dance. That day, in addition to me, Oriol – who was even worse than me – Lukaku and Meireles also did it. My debut went well because everyone knew the song. Oriol did an El Canto del Loco song and everyone asked whether he was singing or talking.
Your friends all say the same: going to see you in London is like visiting a friend on Erasmus. All of them say you’re a simple person who even takes the metro.
Perhaps during the first season I erred when I tried to be the guide, so that whenever a friend or relative came, we went to the London Eye, to Big Ben, to Trafalgar Square… it’s true that I like to get to know the city and one of the quickest and easiest ways to do so is by metro, because if you go by car, there are many traffic jams and it’s difficult to find parking. Last year, I accompanied everyone, but now I simply tell them where they should go (laughs).
This makes us think that you’re not a normal footballer…
Well, I don’t know. I try to live my life as normally as possible. In addition to playing football and enjoying it, I try to be a normal person.
Is it much easier to be “normal” in England than in Spain?
Yes, and much more in London. It’s a big city, with many tourists who don’t recognize anyone and life here is much more tranquil. People who do recognize you approach you respectfully.
Despite how natural you are, how does someone who has won so many things, who has money and success, who is idolized, keep his feet on the ground?
I don’t force anything. I speak with my lifelong friends and with the people that I’ve gotten to known over these years in football, nothing more. I always try to have clear objectives, and I know that in the end, the life of a footballer is not a real life, but rather a short and very beautiful life. The important thing is to know that I am lucky to be in a beautiful moment of my life and I have to enjoy it.
Each year, you take a trip with you friends. Does that help you to feel like one more of the guys?
The truth is that is one of the most enjoyable moments I have each year. It’s beginning to get complicated though, since I have the pre-season, others are doing their exams… One year we went to Greece, another year to Cádiz, another year to the U.S….
The press always talks about the people around the footballer. Do you believe that is an important factor?
I believe so. In the end, one is never conscious of what surrounds him. We are 25 years old, and when you play in the elite level of football, many times your age or your maturity level is not in accordance with the responsibility that you have. It’s important to have people who advise you and who guide you around you, but who also allow you to be yourself.
What does reading bring to you?
It makes the trips more bearable. We begin the concentraciones, we travel, we spend a lot of time in hotels and it gets boring. Reading always helps, it’s a way for me to amuse myself and relax.
When you got to London, some tabloids reported that you gave up a promising career in music for football…
(Laughs) Whatever! That’s not true. I sang in my school’s choir with my sister. One time, the director asked my mother if I could stop training to practice more with the choir. Now I sing poorly and only in the shower.
What do you like the least about London? In addition to the bad weather and the hours…
The traffic. Here, there are a lot of traffic jams and you waste a lot of time sitting in the car.
However, there must be something that you have enjoyed doing in this city that you never imagined you would do…
I enjoy each free day that I have, because I always do something different. I get up and I like to think about places I haven’t visited, where I can go, how to get there and to continue to get to know London. This city is so big that it’s like many cities combined in one and that allows you do do things.
What do you miss the most about Spain?
The people: my family and my friends. To be sincere, since I got here, things have gone so well for me that I haven’t had time to think about what I miss or what I don’t miss. For example, the quality of life in Valencia is spectacular. The beach, the sun, the warm weather… you always miss that.
On a personal level, what makes you happy?
To take a moment and think about how lucky I am, that makes me very happy. Being able to enjoy a life like this one thanks to football – which is what I love the most – and from there, having opportunities in life that others don’t have.
Everyone wants to be an elite footballer. But what is it really like?
It’s great, fantastic. You enjoy a sport at the maximum level and when one is an athlete, it’s what one wants. It also comes with responsibilities, demands, objectives, pressure… there are many games and you have to give it your all in each one to reach your goals. You have to know how to manage all this and it’s not as easy as it appears to be.
What is the biggest sacrifice you had to make to get to where you are now?
Leaving home at the age of 15. Leaving your friends, your family behind… it was a risky and tough decision but I’m happy to have made it.
In your family, at least, it was understood because your father was a professional footballer. Does he criticize you or give you advice?
My father never pressured me, I’ve been lucky in that way. I had teammates whose fathers pressured them, who demanded things from them and who didn’t allow them to enjoy football and improve. My father has always given me great advice, he never scolded me a lot or made me feel bad for my performance in a game. I have to thank him for that.
Your grandfather, in addition to being someone very important to you, is also a great commentator, no?
(Laughs) My grandfather is the best. He always went to watch my father play, and when I began playing, he did the same with me. I remember a very special day. I was playing on Real Madrid’s cadete team and we were playing at the Cerro del Espino against Atlético. My grandfather took a bus from Asturias to come and see me, he watched the game and when it ended, he returned by bus. He always reminds me of that day because I scored two goals and I dedicated them to him. He told me that of course the trip was worth it because he saw me score two goals.
Who has had the most influence on the decisions that you’ve made in life?
Of course my parents and my sister, who have always been there for me, and who have been participants in all my decisions and a constant support for me. They are everything.
And in football? Perhaps Koeman?
Yes. In the end, in the career of a footballer, it’s important to be in the right moment, in the right place, and for everything to go well. He was a very important coach for me because I was in Valencia and not playing very much. When he came in, he had confidence in me, he started me, he played me and things began to go well for me.
You consider yourself a fortunate person. Do you believe getting to where you are now is the result of luck, of hard work or both things?
It’s a mixture of the two. I believe I am lucky to get to where I am. I worked hard in training sessions and I’ve sacrificed many things, but I have to admit that I was also lucky. Sometimes no matter how hard you work and fight, you don’t get there without luck. I had coaches, for example Koeman, who had confidence in me and when I played I did things well. In various moments of my career, I felt that I had the luck of being in the right place at the right time and doing things well.
Are you superstitious? Do you have many manias?
(Laughs) The truth is yes, but I don’t believe that they influence how you play. I do them as part of a routine and many times without even thinking about it. For example, I always put on my left shinguard and boot first, but I don’t think about it, I just do it naturally. It just doesn’t occur to me to put on the right ones first… I always enter onto the field with my right foot and there are a few more (laughs).
You’re an expert when it comes to social networks. There aren’t many players who manage their image like that. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…
Instagram makes you believe that you’re a good photographer (laughs)… I like to take photos and find out what my followers think. Twitter and Facebook allow you to be in contact with people, in a way, to let them know what you like.
It’s really difficult to get you angry. But what pisses Juan Mata off?
The moments where I get the angriest are on the field, and a play or a bad decision can make you angry, but not much more than that. Also, obviously, in life when I find someone who doesn’t have good intentions, that makes me very angry.
Have you ever thought about quitting?
No, I never did. I remember that one time when I was 15, after I had been regularly called up for the U-15 and U-16 teams, the Preeuropeo came and I wasn’t called up. I remember that this was the first blow that I received as a footballer, but it made me stronger and I told myself that I had to go to the next tournament. And I went. I always try to find the positive things from adversity, what will make me stronger.
One day in 2011, “Premier” was suggested to you. What did you think?
The first thing that came to mind was “why not? Why not get to know another style of football, another language, another culture?” I also thought about how things turned out well for those other players who had chosen this road, and how it didn’t have to be different for me.
How did you feel when you got here?
It was how I imagined. I arrived at the end of August, when the league had already started. I arrived on a Thursday, and on Sunday, after training twice with the team, I debuted. Villas-Boas had already told me that he wanted me to play and what he expected of me, and I was able to debut with a goal a few minutes after coming onto the field. I scored and as soon as the game ended, I returned to Spain because I had been called up for the national team. Those first four days were incredible.
How do you feel knowing that you’re one of the best players in the Premier League?
I’m really happy here. During the first season and this one, I’ve had the luck of getting to know many stadiums, of letting the fans enjoy themselves, of experiencing English football… things have gone great for me, I was able to win titles and I feel part of a team that wants to win everything it plays for. Knock on wood, but everything that has happened to me since I got here has been great, so the only thing I can feel is joy.
When you talk about your signing, you always say that one of the keys was Fernando Torres. What did he tell you?
In the last several concentraciones with the national team before my signing, he always joked with me and told me that the club liked me a lot, that I was going to have a great time there, that everything would be great for me there, that he was going to help me with everything, that London was a fantastic city… he had a fundamental role in my arrival, not only with me, but also with the club, as he made an effort to convince them to sign me. I’m very grateful to him because, in addition to all this, he helped me a lot when I arrived, giving me a car to use, an English mobile phone, he showed me where the training grounds were…
Chelsea paid 28 million euros for you, do you feel an extra responsibility?
Yes, it’s true. In the end, it appears that after so many signings and so many numbers we can talk tranquilly about this amount, but it’s frightful to play 28 million for someone. I remember that my grandfather told me, “who would have known that they were going to pay this amount for you when I saw you play as a kid at El Requexón?”
How is it being part of a team with football legends such as Terry, Drogba, Cech or Lampard?
In the beginning, you give them respect. The same thing happened to me in Valencia when I arrived, as Albelda, Cañizares, Marchena, Baraja, Morientes and Villa were there. I had watched all of them play when I was growing up and now they were my teammates. This was the same situation, getting to know them in the beginning is a shock, but after sharing a locker room, conversations, games, trips and concentraciones, you realize that they’re just like you, that they’re normal persons.
What is your relationship with them? Some of them even speak Spanish.
Yes, Cech, for example, speaks five languages, he’s a phenomenon. I was surprised by how friendly Terry and Lampard were, they gave me their telephone numbers and told me to call if I ever needed anything.
More and more Spaniards are going to the Premier and doing well. Player such as Xabi Alonso or Torres paved the way. What is changing in the Premier or in Spanish players for this success to occur?
I believe the moment that Spanish football is in is important, because in the end everyone wants to play like Spain and that benefits everyone. I also think the confidence and lack of complexes are key in this generation when it comes time to spread their style outside of Spain.
It appears that the best time for the national team coincides with the Liga losing quality. Is the Premier one step ahead of the Liga right now?
It depends on what you’re looking at. If we look at the semifinals of the Champions League, which is what sets the level of football a bit, then no because there are two Spanish semifinalists. However, the Premier is ahead if we’re talking about economics, about marketing or about adaptation. I also think that it’s marketed better in other continents such as Asia or the Americas. I respect that the fans there are different, because football is felt there in a special manner.
It’s always said that English football is more physical and “rejects” possession. How does a player with your characteristics fit in?
Precisely by being a different sort of player. It’s true that in English football, there is no midfield, five attack and the other five defend. But I believe that this benefits me, because there is more space and players like me try to play between the lines – we have more time and space to receive, control, think and do more damage.
Sixteen members of your family went to the Champions League final and some of your teammates teased you about that.
(Laughs) After the game, we had a private party. My grandparents, my uncles and aunts, my parents, my sister, my cousins and my friends were all there. My cousins went to watch the final and to get autographs (laughs). I knew that watching a final of the Champions League would excite them and since you never know whether you’ll play another, no one wanted to miss out.
Chelsea has four Spanish players, a Spanish coach, Spanish doctors and a Spanish fisio. Do you form a clique or are you all more open?
Hombre, obviously, although it may only be for the fact that we know each other better and for the language, you always spend more time with the Spaniards. For example, I’ve known Azpilicueta and Fernando for many years, since the youth national teams. In the end it’s true that we have an important role in the locker room. Outside of it, we usually get together for dinner, but I suppose that’s logical.
You have a special relationship with Fernando Torres, no?
Yes, of course. Together, we have won a World Cup, a Eurocopa, a Champions League Cup and an FA Cup. In addition, he gave me the pass in the final of the Eurocopa… Personally, I consider myself fortunate and privileged to know him well and for him to consider me a friend, because he is a great forward who has done many great things, first with Atleti and then with Liverpool, and of course with the national team and now here with Chelsea.
He always said you were a great support for him when he was having a bad time…
Yes, he especially had a bad time last year. He was going through a bad time during the beginning of the season and I tried to help him, to be by his side and to let him see that I believed in him, and that I will always believe in him.
Was this your way of giving back to him for the pass he gave you in the Eurocopa?
Hombre, that is a lot more than what I gave to him. He left me alone and without the goalkeeper to score. He jokes a lot about this, he tells me that he made me great, that he made me famous (laughs).
We know that you like ping pong a lot, but you can’t seem to beat Oriol…
With Oriol, I have a mental problem. We’re always on the same level but when I come close to beating him, my hand starts to shake. I have to work with my “personal trainer” (laughs). He knows my weak points and he takes advantage of them.
How long did it take you to realize, as is the case of all Spaniards who go to England, that you knew less English than you thought you did? [Jajaja, so true!]
It happened quickly (laughs). When I came, I came with the English I learned in school and I thought I knew it, because I had also spent a summer in the U.S., but after listening to Terry and Lampard speak to each other, I realized that I would need classes. In addition, they speak Cockney English and that makes it more difficult. It’s important, when you live here, to listen to the radio, watch television… it’s the only way to improve.
If you return to Spain, where would you like to play, in addition to Oviedo, of course.
(Laughs) Oviedo is a good answer. I’m really comfortable here. I’ve been here for two years and I’m having a great time, so I plan on continuing here, with Chelsea.
Speaking of Oviedo, do you believe you can play for one team and live for the colors of another?
I believe so. If you’re going to stay with one team for your entire life, it’s important to live for that team, but it should also cover your expectations on a sporting level and continue to challenge you with objectives, titles… you have to grow as a footballer. Totti or Giggs come to mind, they’ve spent their entire careers with one team, they’ve won titles and are legendary players. In my case, I support Oviedo, but a series of economic and structural problems ended up with many players leaving. But I will always want Oviedo to be promoted and to return to the first division, where it deserves to be. And for it to once again be able to play the derbi asturiano.
Do you believe people would be surprised if they knew what team footballers really supported?
(Laughs) (Silence) Yes, yes, really yes, it would at least be surprising.
Do you believe the goal in the Eurocopa was the most important one of your life? What went through your head in that moment?
It is without a doubt, in terms of repercussion. My entire family and all my friends were there, I hadn’t played much… I remember I ran towards Fernando and I gave him a hug and I told him, “it’s yours, this goal is for you.” I looked up at the stands and I saw my entire family behind the bench, and they were happy. What fills me with joy is seeing my family, my parents, my sister or my grandparents being moved more than me when things go well for me, when I score a goal, when I win a title. The best thing about being a footballer is without a doubt making the people around you, and even people that you don’t know, happy doing what you love. The happiest day of my life was when we went around Madrid on the bus of the national team, and I saw people crying out of emotion. It touches you even more to know that by playing football, you can make so many people happy, it’s incredible.
The name of our magazine was inspired by the moment Iniesta scored the goal in the World Cup. Everyone remembers where they were, how they celebrated, who they were with. How do you remember it?
(Laughs) I was close by. I remember it in slow motion. How the play developed, how it got to Fernando, how he crossed it, how it was recovered and fell to Cesc, how he gave it to Iniesta. The first thing I did when Iniesta got the ball was to look at the linesman, because from the bench I couldn’t see it well, and when he scored, I looked at the scoreboard to see how much time was left. After that, I began running, Silva grabbed me, I jumped and we all fell into a pile. I almost suffocated but it was an unforgettable moment. In addition, I will never forget this feeling I had: the entire section in front of us was made up of Dutch fans, and I felt that in the moment of our lives when we were screaming the loudest, we were doing it in silence. I will always remember that.
What would be the Minute 116 of your life?
I think the final of the Eurocopa, for how things went. Those were the only minutes I played in the entire tournament and the fourth ball I touched was a goal. I was warming up, and the minutes went by and I only thought about being able to play. I thought, “please, I want to debut, even if it’s just to debut!” In some way, that was destiny, I went in, I debuted, I scored, and I closed out an incredible result in a final: 4-0.
It was a difficult Eurocopa for you, since you came in as a fundamental player for your club and you didn’t play a minute until the final. How does an elite footballer deal with this?
You have to be aware that you need to help the team in whatever is needed, but egotistically speaking, all footballers want to play, especially those who are important with their teams but don’t have the same options with their national teams. In the end, you have to make sacrifices, to help, to be one more and to take advantage of opportunities. There were good and bad days but the team won and the feeling was that you were doing something great, something historical. We were happy.
Are you aware that you’re part of the best national team in history?
Yes. I played in the Confederations Cup, I was in the World Cup and in the Eurocopa. Now comes another Confederations Cup and another World Cup. Everything goes by quickly but history has been made. To be one of the 23 who won the Eurocopa and the 23 who won the World Cup is something historical. My friends and my family tell me that I will understand what I won as the years go by. The Champions, the Eurocopa and the World Cup are the three most important titles that a player can win, and with the passing of time, I hope to say that I won them more than once.
With your numbers and your trophies, do you believe you deserve to be recognized more in Spain?
I don’t know. Each time I go to Spain, to Valencia, Asturias or Madrid, I do feel loved and valued, but it’s true that when you play outside you lose a bit of image in the day to day. People are proud when they see how well Spanish players are doing overseas.
You’re a young player who has won some impressive titles. What’s left for Juan Mata?
The Premier League. Although in the short term we also have the Europa League, my ambitions are the Premier and the Capital One Cup.
Paula Mata: Visiting Yokohama.
Juan likes to stop by the house without warning and give my grandparents the fright of their lives, or to make my cousins the happiest kids in the world when he pays them a surprise visit at school during recess, and signs autographs and poses for photos with the other children. He doesn’t have many free days to go on vacation or return home. His free days depend on the calendar, the results and the decisions of the coaches and that’s why I remember with a special affection the day that he took two flights home to celebrate our grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, whom we have infinite affection for.
Since I would like to see more of him than I do, I try to fit my free time around that commitments of the elite footballer who happens to be my brother. Last December, Juan was playing with Chelsea at the Club World Cup in Japan. I traveled to Tokyo from Cairo, where I was living at the moment, to spend two weeks in Japan and follow the team in the tournament. I remember arriving in Yokohama by train, alone. I was the only family member of the players who had made the trip.
The hotel they were staying at was the tallest building in the city. Juan arrived on time, as always, accompanied by a security guard who had followed all of his movements from the moment he left his room. It appeared the afternoon would be reduced to a coffee in the cafeteria of the hotel. However, it became much more than that.
From the top floor of the hotel, there were incredible views of the bay with Tokyo in the distance. Then I encouraged Juan to go take a walk. We had two hours before dinner and both of us were dying to go outside, especially him, to get to know the city where he had already spent several days without seeing anything.
Oscar, Azpilicueta and Lucas Piazón joined us as soon as they heard about our plan. They also wanted to do something different and disconnect. I convinced the translator of the club that it was very important for us to go out and visit the city. We were dying to do so! It took some effort to convince the security team to let us leave the hotel, since what we were asking was not part of their plan. They couldn’t imagine that four Chelsea players and the sister of one was going to put their security plan at risk. In the end, they gave us a car and a driver so that our visit could be as comfortable, quick and secure as possible. The translator became a guide with all the questions we began asking him as soon as the car drove off. The car only had five seats, so I made the trip squished between César and Juan [lucky, lucky girl!], and the legs of all three of us fell asleep.
The visit around Yokohama was one of the funnest experiences I’ve had with Juan. We went around Chinatown and we visited the old exchange at the port, which is now an artisan market. We died laughing while taking pictures of those brave souls who were falling as they tried to ice skate for the first time, we marveled at the long lines at the restaurants and we delighted in the Christmas decorations that adorned the city, the bars and even the food!
One of the most entertaining stops of the night was a visit to an arcade, one of those famous Pachinko parlors, where hundreds of Japanese were playing games. They told us to try our hand at winning the grand prize. In one of the souvenir shops we went into, the boys began an improvised competition with one of the traditional wooden Japanese games. They always have the spirit of competition. I think Juan finished second after César, despite Piazón’s cheating… We had to hurry back to the hotel, but not before stopping to get ice cream and take a couple more photos of the bay.
It was a fun and unique experience. The enormous cultural differences were what most attracted our attention, and what piqued the curiosity of Juan and his teammates. They enjoyed each minute in Yokohama, since they were delighted to be able to mix with the people. It was a pleasure to experience this small adventure with my brother and his friends. We had a great time. In addition to being elite athletes, they’re also normal, young guys who laugh at the same things, who like to travel and who are interested in other cultures just like other boys their age.
Thoughts from his grandfather.
Manolo García’s face light ups when he talks about his grandson Juan. He says, “when he was 10, I began telling everyone that he was the best, but my friends didn’t believe it. Now, when I see them, they have to admit that I was right.” He also reveals that he had been a faithful supporter of Real Madrid for many years, but now he supports whatever team Juanín plays for, and that the decision was made for Juan to join Real Madrid because the school in Madrid was very good, and his daughter and son-in-law placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of education.
Side by side.
Pedro Mosquera: I would define him as a humble boy and a friend of his friends. We became super good friends on the day we met, with the U-15 national team, when we were put in the same room. He was playing for Oviedo back then. A year later, he signed for Madrid and I was with him as boarders for five years in the same school. We’re great friends.
Juan has told me that in London they really respect footballers. He tells me that no one usually bothers him when he’s walking on the street or eating at a restaurant.
He doesn’t get as much attention as he should from the press, but it’s true that he’s a fixture with the national team, the champion of Europe and of the world. Del Bosque recognizes his worth and that says a lot.
One day when we went to the movies, at a shopping center, a homosexual guy asked him to go out with him. We had a good laugh.
In school, we had an English teacher who was quite attractive. Juan, from the time he was small, has always had a lot of hair, so he had a beard from the time he was 14. The teacher always called him “Barbudito,” but he didn’t like that because he had a crush on her, just like we all did.
Álvaro Negredo: he’s a great person, a very humble boy, who has worked very hard to get to where he is. I’ve known him for quite a long time, and what he has achieved is the result of his hard work and of his consistency. I have a lot of affection for him. He’s a fantastic boy, always open to everything and I wish him the best.
I know that in England he travels on the metro and he does it often, but he’s like that, natural. I follow him in the Premier, he has evolved a lot. The truth is that I’m happy for him, because he’s a great player and a great friend.
In the Eurocopa, he was the one whom I asked to cut my hair (laughs). I also helped him a bit. We didn’t have a barber, so we had to do it ourselves and I remember that he cut my hair one time, because I couldn’t do the back. I also cut his hair a bit in the back. The truth is that we’ve always spent a lot of time together, especially during long concentraciones. He’s a great guy and I have a lot of fun with him.
Adrián López: the first time we met was as rivals. He was playing on the youth team of Oviedo and I was playing on the youth team of Covadonga. The next year, although I continued to play for Covadonga, I trained once a week with Oviedo because at the end of the year, I was going to join them. We went together on the bus and that’s when I really got to know him.
He’s super simple, very normal, a humble person. He has all those things that people may think are rare to find in someone so famous. He’s a very normal person and a great friend to his friends.
I speak with him once in a while and I’m very happy to see things go well for him in England. Wherever he went, he was going to succeed, because he’s a great player, and there aren’t many like him with his vision, his quality, his goal scoring ability…
Negredo let him cut his hair but I wouldn’t. Negredo shaved his head and that is, in theory, easier. I’m sure he would have found a way to destroy my hair (laughs).
The word that defines him is without a doubt “humility.” With that said, each time we play pocha, he wins, I think it’s because he cheats (laughs). It’s not normal for him to always win…
He’s a big supporter of Oviedo and each time he’s in Asturias he goes to the Carlos Tartiere or passes by El Requexón to watch a game or do things related with the club.
We also get a little photo album…
… and a graphic detailing Juanín’s career.
I can’t wait to see who the magazine profiles next!