Juan Mata at DT
The Asturian forward exudes class and scores goals in the Premier League, where he was nominated as the player of the year. At the age of 25, he already has an impressive curriculum, and is also a fixture on La Roja ahead of the 2014 World Cup. He’s a present talent with a great future.
A while back, someone compared Real Madrid’s canteranos with salmon, who swim upstream to spawn. Some are left behind on the road, others give up trying, some join other species and only a few return to the site where they were bred. But the case of Juan Mata is different. If he had endured another season with Castilla; if Míchel, the director of the cantera back then, had given him more opportunities; if Míchel’s own son wasn’t part of the same generation; perhaps he wouldn’t have taken the first flight to Valencia and the Bernabéu would be chanting his name right now.
It doesn’t matter. Mata went to Mestalla for free during the summer of 2007, and several weeks later he had formed with Villa one of the most lethal pairings in the Liga. A burgalés from Oviedo and an asturiano from Sporting triumphing in the capital of Turia next to a great canario (Silva) and a product of la Masía (Jordi Alba). They spent four seasons together until the debt of the club forced it to sell its jewels one by one. Now, they are all playing for big clubs in Europe and are champions of the world and of Europe with La Roja. Today, the boy who left Valdebebas through the back door has been nominated as the player of the year in the Premier and has just won the Europa League with Chelsea.
During your first year in Chelsea, you were chosen as the club’s player of the year. Did you expect to triumph so quickly in the Premier?
The truth is no. It was a fantastic season for me, and finishing the season by winning the Champions League was great.
As you say in the introduction to your blog, “One hour behind,” you have already achieved many of your dreams. What’s left?
As an athlete, you have to try and surpass yourself. As a kid, I dreamed of winning a World Cup and the Champions League, but I still have objectives… the Premier League is the next one, and of course, continuing to play Eurocopas and World Cups with the national team.
Do you still have a thorn in your side from not triumphing in Madrid?
I’m happy now. What I’m experiencing now doesn’t leave me time to think about other things. Things have gone quite well for me: I live in London, I play for Chelsea… one goes through different moments in his career: Madrid, Valencia, now Chelsea… and you have to live them.
How do you see La Roja’s options ahead of the Confederations Cup and the qualification for the World Cup?
This is a national team that has made history. No one had ever won the Eurocopa-World Cup-Eurocopa before. We continue to desire titles. I feel fortunate to be part of this group of footballers and persons. Our options are to continue improving, to continue winning.
Del Bosque has always been very deliberate with his changes to the group. Which names do you believe will appear in the call-ups in the near future?
Names such as Isco or Muniain, who have already been called up before… De Gea in the goal, or my Chelsea teammate César Azpilicueta… that’s the good thing about this team, that there are great players who have spent many years playing and other spectacular ones who are up and coming. The future will be very brilliant.
You haven’t thought about recommending your oviedista colleague, Michu, who is doing really well with Swansea?
(Laughs) That would be good, because I also know him, and the season he’s having in the Premier is admirable, especially as it’s his first. Since I know him and we grew up together in the same cantera, it would be great for him to go.
Silva’s doing well with City, Pablo Hernández with Swansea, Vicente with Brighton, you with Chelsea… will you all make a space for Villa next season to resurrect that Valencia team?
The truth is that el Guaje is doing very well in Barcelona. Valencia was in a complicated economic situation, and many of us left, and luckily everything is going well for us. Of course I wish David the best.
Have you ever thought about what Valencia would be like now if you all had continued there?
The truth is no, but while I was there I lived it and I enjoyed it. When I came in at the age of 19, I was proud to play with Villa, Silva, Baraja, Marchena, Albelda, Albiol, Morientes, Cañizares… people who have been very important in Spanish football. Now there are other players who are doing well and they’re fighting for a spot in the Champions League.
What is Roman Abramovich like up close?
He’s a normal person, friendly and dedicated to the team. We don’t see him a lot, he comes to some games or to the training grounds, but each time I spoke with him he appeared to be interested in the team, asking about everything…
Has he invited you to any of his parties?
What does Fernando Torres need to once again explode as a goalscorer?
I believe that all forwards want to score and they work hard on that. In his case, many times you don’t see how hard he works: he creates spaces, he shakes off the defenders… this year he has scored 19 or 20 goals and I’m sure he will score more. I have a lot of confidence in him.
How has your adaptation to London been?
I love the city, I love getting to know new areas. Whenever I can, I go to the center of the city to explore new neighborhoods. Although you live here, there are always things to discover.
What differences are there between London and Madrid?
You also live very well in Madrid, but London is much bigger. I believe it’s the center of Europe, on many levels. Every day, people come here to learn English, to work… there are many job offers. It’s comparable to very few cities. Perhaps New York…
What are your favorite corners?
There are many. Close to my house, in Chelsea, King’s Road and Fulham Road, which are two great streets. In the Notting Hill area, there’s Kensington Park Road. Then there’s Soho, in the east, Brick Lane, Borough Market, South Bank… I could keep going and never stop.
Have you gotten gotten a real English suit made yet?
I’m working on that with Hackett, a very English brand. Savile Row is a great street for custom made suits, although it’s not hard to find places to buy good clothes.
Do you believe footballers in England dress differently than in Spain or Italy?
Not too much, although British style is different, and they take care of themselves very much. Anyway, with so many foreign players in each league, there is a mix of everything.
Who are your references when it comes to style?
Speaking of footballers, I believe Lampard is a gentleman when it comes to style, and on the national team, Xabi Alonso. I quite like how he normally dresses.
What do you always bring along on road trips?
My mobile phone charger (laughs). My toilet kit, a book, my iPad…
How do you pass the time during trips and concentraciones?
I love reading and watching TV series, more than I like playing Play.
What is the last series that you’ve become hooked on?
I watched the first two seasons of “Homeland” and I really liked it. Now I’m watching “Band of Brothers” and it’s also great.
Is there any place in London where they cook las fabes [white kidney beans from Asturias] like they do in Casa Gerardo in Prendes (Asturias)?
No, I haven’t found any place where they make it like my grandmother in Asturias (laughs). Whenever I come, she makes an effort to feed me the best foods. But no, I haven’t found any place yet.
We’ve been told that you’ve been a guide for the Spaniards who have come to Chelsea. Can you give us a place to visit during our next trip?
It’s true that from the time that César Azpilicueta came, whenever a friend of his comes to the city, he asks me where to eat, and I try to give suggestions. I would say that Walton Street is a very cool street, with cafes and restaurants that you all may like. In Notting Hill, on Kensington Park Road, there are a couple of Italian restaurants that are great.
You’ve lived in Oviedo, so you’re used to the rain.
Yes, but after living in Madrid and Valencia, I had forgotten about the rain (laughs). Hombre, right now I look out the window and the sun has come out, the temperature is great, but in winter there are very few hours of daylight, and it gets dark really early. I have no problems with the rain.
You have almost two million followers on Twitter.
I’m proud to have people in contact with me, that they want to know what I like via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It’s great that the fans want to get to know me.
You’re very active on Instagram.
I think that in some way, it makes you think that you’re a good photographer, with all the filters and things… it’s a great idea for a social network, and I like it a lot.
Does your love for social networks have anything to do with your marketing studies?
It could be, I believe they are fundamental marketing tools.
You like to travel, to read, to watch series… you’re not a typical footballer.
I don’t know, I don’t think so. I have many teammates who also watch series… there are others who read, who try to study. I only try to do what I like. I don’t want to be different than anyone else.
Perhaps you’re changing the stereotype of a footballer.
Well, I believe that people have always had the wrong image of footballers. Each one has his own way of dressing, of living life, his own tastes and hobbies… I only try to play football, to enjoy what I love most and to try and enjoy other facets of my life. Nothing more.
PF Juan Mata was also interviewed by FIFA ahead of the Confecup. Luckily, the interview is in English, which means no translating work!
It’s not long until Spain’s first game at the FIFA Confederations Cup [against Uruguay]. How are you feeling?
I’m really excited and feeling very up for it. I want to experience another Confederations Cup. I’ve been working very hard all season to help make sure things go well.
Does the fact it’s taking place in South America make it a special challenge, since European players rarely get the chance to compete there?
Yes, because it’ll be my first time in Brazil and we’ll be playing competitive matches in the Americas – which is something we’ve not done before. It’ll also be good to know more about the country that’s hosting the World Cup. We’ll get to see what the stadiums are like, have a taste of the atmosphere – which I’m sure will be great, and also start preparing for next year’s competition.
Is there anything you’re particularly excited about ahead of this new experience?
When you’re going to play in Brazil, the Maracana always comes to mind. It’d be fantastic if we could reach the final there and win it.
Spain have won the last two UEFA EUROs and are the reigning world champions. What kind of behaviour do you see from opponents that suggests a level of respect and awe for La Roja?
The main things are the comments people make before a game and sometimes on the pitch during a match too. Spain are enjoying the greatest period in their footballing history and of course our opponents want to knock us off our perch. But it makes us feel proud when we experience this, that playing against us is seen as special. One of the lads said that a club-mate of his, ahead of a friendly match against their national team, asked him to tell us not to go all-out against them, because we were playing really well.
Are you still known by the nickname ‘Jonny Kills’ (a literal translation of Juan Mata) in the Chelsea dressing room?
(Laughs) Not so much now, because it was [Daniel] Sturridge who used to call me that and he’s gone to Liverpool. The rest of the lads call me Juan, in Spanish. Well, they try, but there are not many that can pronounce it properly. Nearly all of them say it like the English number ‘one’ – it’s impossible for them to pronounce the ‘jota’ sound!
As a well-known footballer, can you still go about London without hassle?
Yes it’s fine. Now I can tell that more people recognise me, perhaps because it’s my second year here but, for a football player, this city is more relaxed than any other. Firstly because it’s so big and also because loads of people don’t follow football, so you can have a more normal life than you might in Spain.
So, you can still manage to go about unnoticed sometimes, despite your success?
Very often I can. I’ll go down to Soho, which I love, or Camden Town, and nobody will recognise me there. I can go into the centre, walk around, go for a stroll and catch public transport without any hassle. When I go into the centre on the tube, when it’s rush hour and traffic makes driving impossible, sometimes people recognise me and say hello, but they never make me feel uncomfortable. I feel very relaxed and can just go along, chatting with my friends.
Footballers tend to live in the outskirts of cities, whereas you live in the heart of London. Why’s that?
It’s generally those players that have children who live in the suburbs, as everything’s quieter out there. It depends on the stage of career you’re at. I’m still young and in the early years of mine, so I like to get to know the place I’m living: walking around, grabbing a coffee in the city… Things like that.
Which places do you enjoy most?
Something that’s phenomenal about London is that is has a lot of cities within the city, loads of different environments. I really like the Chelsea area, there are a number of good places to buy clothes in Camden, Notting Hill has some very cool and different things… London is cosmopolitan and it’s different to where I’ve been used to living.
Do you act as a tour guide when your family and friends come to visit?
The first year I used to always go with everybody to show them all the typical places, but now I just give them the guidebook and send them off themselves! (Laughs) I prefer trying to discover new places: I really like listening to live music, for example, and also playing table tennis.
Would you describe yourself as having a curious mind?
Yes, I’d maybe say restless too. I’m always keen to learn about the city that surrounds me: where I live, what makes it tick, local customs… It’s something that runs in the family. My sister is always travelling too and ever since we were little we’ve always had an interest in seeing different perspectives on life. I’ve been backpacking with friends, I’ve been to the Greek islands, not long ago I went to the West of the United States… I wanted to see the cities and what they were like.
Do you still have a child-like side to your character?
I think that you’ve always got to conserve some of that innocence and enthusiasm that kids have. If you lose that, it’s not a good thing. We footballers have to live with a lot of responsibility from a very young age and that makes you grow up faster than others your age. But there are other times when you can’t be too serious and need to let yourself get carried away. You get those people who have a ‘good-guy face’ but never stop taking the mickey, which is what some say about me. (Laughs) My sister is here in London and we’re always joking around, while I’m the same with my mates when they come over and visit too.
How do you manage to combine your university studies with your football commitments?
It’s difficult but not impossible. I like the world of marketing, publicity and new technology and there’s no reason why playing football can’t be compatible with those things. Since I came to London it’s got a bit trickier, but I’m still enrolled in INEF (Physical Activity and Sport Sciences) and Marketing. I’m in touch with my tutor, although trying to find times to chat that suit us both is difficult. The most important thing in my life right now is my football, but I do expect to finish my degree. I’m not hurrying, but I’m not giving up either.
Although PF is asked more or less the same thing in every interview (life in London, traveling on the metro, his style, etc.), I still find them interesting. How about you?