If anyone wants a 33 tear old Mata at this club then fair enough. I am happy to give 12 month contract with option to extend. It's a very fair offer to a lad with zero pace. I love him as a player. Love him as a man. But I realise he could well struggle this time next year. I want him to be like David Silva but I'm not sure he is.
Mata will probably be as good in 2 years as he is now. He's at the prime age for a decline in pace but he never had much anyway. His best attributes will remain strong. We still don't have anyone else like him at the club, and he's still arguably our best player in theory for breaking down defences and threading passes through the eye of a needle.
"Cohle Island knows no King but the King in the North, whose name is Cantona."
Yeah I don't see Mata declining a great deal, as said, he's never relied on pace anyway. His mind will still be sharp, which is the main thing with players like him. He'll always be a great option from the bench IMO.
Still, like Young, he should only expect 12 months deals from this point on.
The scene is all so serene, so removed from the emotions running wild across town at Old Trafford. The setting is the Whitworth Art Gallery, and Juan Mata strides towards the café, walking through the small but impressive Cézanne exhibition. In his mind, Mata still sees only the headlines following the humiliating defeat Manchester United have just endured at West Ham United.
It’s Monday afternoon, so peaceful here in the Whitworth, with the view of the genteel park, laughing students strolling past, couples sharing almost the same chair as they cling close and whisper over coffee. The mayhem of Mata’s professional world seems miles away. It’s scarcely three.
He holds a copy of his book published today, Juan Mata, Suddenly a Footballer, My Story (Reach Sport, £20) and inspects the book jacket he designed with his partner, Evelina Kamph. The book matters to Mata not simply for relating his journey from the fields of Asturias to Valencia, to Chelsea and 2012 Champions League glory and now United, as well as the 2010 World Cup triumph with Spain, but also because it will raise money for the Common Goal charity he set up “to use the power of football to make the world a better place”.
The 31-year-old knows the world is burdened with weightier problems than the form of a famous football team, but such a proud professional is inevitably suffering. “Today is a very difficult day for me,” Mata begins. “I’m hurting. We came back on the train from London, and I didn’t speak. I feel sorry for the fans, for not giving them what they’re looking for.
“As players, we all have to take responsibility. We are United. There are many people outside waiting for United not to be good and enjoying it when we don’t do well. We have two options: to stick together or let that criticism and that enjoyment from others at our results affect us in a way that we divide ourselves.”
It’s brutal on social media. “One weekend you’re an idol, you score the winner, and three days later you miss a big chance and you’re a villain,” Mata says. “The repercussions of every single action in a game is unbelievable. It can be turned into a video seen by millions instantly on Twitter or Instagram, missing a penalty, making a mistake, and it’s seen as ‘a tragedy’ on many smartphones and in many minds.
“People say, ‘You cannot complain, you play football, pressure is for the people trying to make a living.’ Of course, I understand that. But results dictate my life, my mood, my weeks, my relationships. It’s difficult for my girlfriend.” Kamph is a respected osteopath working out of Bowdon, south of Manchester. “I’m sorry to her,” Mata says of his moodiness. “And for my family. I don’t speak because I’m angry.
“I remember once when we lost, I was hurting and as I went out the training ground, there was one kid with his dad.” The pair were standing there, ignoring the tumbling rain and skies as dark as Mata’s mood as they gestured politely for an autograph. Slowing down, Mata lowered the window. “Stay strong, we’re behind you,” the boy said. Unconditional support. “They cheered me up,” Mata recalls.
That loyalty continues to inspire Mata. Despite their team’s underachieving, United supporters, certainly inside Old Trafford and that magnificent away following, back them. “I don’t think that would happen in other countries,” Mata replies. He read Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch before moving to England, giving him insight into fans’ mindset here. “The patience in England is something that’s very valuable for a football player. It makes me feel very lucky to have these loyal fans. It’s just unbelievable.
“In my first season when we did the lap of honour, we’d come seventh, not good enough, and I was expecting people really being hard to us, and rightfully so but I was looking at the stands and they were looking at me, and saying, ‘no matter what, come on, next season’. I got goose bumps. It’s not normal. That showed me the value that the fans have in English football and especially in a club like Manchester United. It’s still unbelievable to feel how they still are behind us, even in difficult moments. But they are humans and there is a limit and I understand that.
“When I was on the outside, I saw Manchester United as a team, always striving for winning, always trying to play with personality and not being overshadowed by any other team in the world. Now I am on the inside, I feel United are the same.”
Really? It looks like United have lost their way, as well as their matches. Mata responds instantly. A DNA cannot be erased quickly, he argues. “It doesn’t matter who you are playing against, you’re playing for Manchester United: ‘we’re here to beat you, score more goals than you, we can do it playing in different ways, but we’re going to do it.’ That ‘never give up feeling’ is a big, big core of this club. That’s why they won so many trophies because Sir Alex [Ferguson] never gave up. He never gives up, even now.”
But now there is Manchester City, Liverpool, Spurs, a resurgent Chelsea, and Monday’s opponents, Arsenal. “Football’s changed,” Mata concurs, “a lot of rivals are very difficult now, but Manchester United has such a different aura, such a different identity from other clubs, and you cannot get that in a quick amount of time. This club has history, players here are the best in the world. It has Old Trafford, all the fans and the tragedy [Munich] that happened, unfortunately. It’s recovered from the tragedy, it has the incredible story with Sir Alex [Ferguson], it has the Matt Busby story, it has the Jimmy Murphy story. It has something that you cannot buy, which is the DNA of United. For other clubs to get that will take many years.
“It’s the power of the shirt and the badge. There are not many clubs in the world that have that. Three, four? Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool. You can also speak about Juventus, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Milan, Inter [Milan]. But Barca, Real Madrid, United and Liverpool are the ones, because of the past.”
He thinks back to when he left Chelsea in 2014. “I had other options but I wanted to know how it felt to be a Manchester United player. That’s something I said when I renewed my contract, and something I still stand up for: being part of this club even now, which is not in a very good moment in terms of results, makes me feel prouder than being at other clubs. I’d probably be enjoying the football more [elsewhere], the style, whatever, but not feeling fulfilled inside. To become a Manchester United player is something that you cannot compare with many other things in the football world.”
He recalls his debut, against Cardiff City, whose manager at the time, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, walked up to him in the tunnel at Old Trafford. “He said, ‘good luck and welcome Juan, enjoy this club, it’s just incredible, you’ll see.’ He was the rival and he was welcoming me as a part of Old Trafford, and then life has put us together again. Ole’s a very nice human being, very approachable, communicates well. Ole loves the club. He loves the values, knows the standards. He was in the golden era of the club, ’99, the treble. He’s suffering because he knows where he wants to take the club. I feel bad for him because I know he really suffers with every defeat. Ole feels the pain, of course he does.”
But is the inexperienced Solskjaer the right man to revive such a huge club, I ask Mata. “Of course! I believe in him. I believe in how he really puts his life into the project that he’s got in front of him. He knew it was difficult when he came. He knows how our rivals are doing, but he wanted to take it anyway.”
Mata believes, too, in players taking responsibility. “The manager’s position is sometimes exaggerated, for good and bad. Carlo Ancelotti won the Champions League with Real Madrid [in 2014], when they equalised in the 90th minute with the Sergio Ramos goal. If Luka Modric doesn’t take the corner quick, and they lose? Is Ancelotti a worse manager? For me, no. I feel sorry for managers when I miss a chance, we lose and they get criticised and they did ‘a bad plan’. It’s the same plan except I missed. It’s me, not them.
“Of course, there are certain individuals that change a team: Diego Simeone, Jürgen Klopp, Pep [Guardiola]. Sir Alex changed the history of this club. But sometimes we try to justify everything with the manager.
“Managers are very important but I like when I’ve heard Zinedine Zidane or Pep say, ‘I’m good only because my players do the things I tell them to but I’m not the last connection with the ball’.”
Mata is always thoughtful company, always prepared to step outside the football bubble. “You can lose connection with reality because footballers’ lifestyles are good, our life is quite structured, quite frenetic in the mindset. You have to fight to keep your place in the team, fight to go to the national team, always set big standards for yourself and sometimes it is difficult to just have a look around and see what’s going on in the world. But before we are footballers, we are human beings and citizens.”
It’s why Brexit vexes him. “I see many people who are confused. I feel confused about what’s going to happen.” For you or the UK? “For both. More for the country than me to be honest. I’m not English. If there was a similar situation in Spain, no [he wouldn’t want ‘leave’].
“I’m very grateful to be Spanish but I feel a citizen of the world. I believe in human beings, doesn’t matter where they’re from. I can have a better, closer relationship with someone from 20,000km away than someone from five metres away.”
He’s always had a broader perspective, a desire to travel, to explore, to engage, growing up in the youth system at his beloved Real Oviedo, then moving to Real Madrid. “When I was in the academy at Real, the style of playing was not very ‘academic’ like in Ajax, it was more the mentality of winning, winning. Fight until the end. At Real, I learnt the ‘never, ever give up feeling’ like United has. They have this attitude of ‘it doesn’t matter how bad we are, we’re going to come back from this because we are United, we are Real Madrid, and sooner or later we are going to be back up there, whether you like it or not.”
His learning curve with Real Madrid Castilla in 2006-07 bequeathed an appreciation for B teams. “I played in Real Madrid B in the Second Division, playing against men, 30, 31, fighting for their lives, for their salaries, and that made me improve a lot.” It’s why he believes the Premier League under-23s football should be scrapped, and a proper, competitive reserves programme initiated.
“In the under-23s here, they play against each other, they play kids against kids and I’m not sure that’s the best development at that age. If Manchester United B team play in the Championship, then those kids will become men in no time and will be more ready to play in the first team. I understand smaller clubs don’t want to give up space for a reserve team of a club.” You’re taking on 120 years or more of league history, I point out. “I know, I know. I don’t want to go contrary with 120 years of history. It’s just an opinion. But in Spain, it helped me, it helped a lot of Spanish players.”
It helped him to Valencia, who triggered his release clause. For four seasons, Mata shone in La Liga. “When I was in Valencia, I was very happy playing with fantastic Spanish players [like David Silva and David Villa], playing in the national team.”
He appeared briefly for Spain during the World Cup in South Africa, and recalls sitting on the bench in the final, when Holland sowed doubts. “Yes, I did doubt it when Arjen Robben was facing [Iker] Casillas one v one.” Yet then came that winning goal from Andrés Iniesta, struck with the power of a whole squad, a whole country behind it. “It’s the best memory I have in football. I still have goose bumps when I think about it. Seeing the photo of the parade! I’ve never seen the country so united for anything. There was a very bad [economic] crisis, a lot of unemployed people, but [for a while] it didn’t matter, you could look around for kilometres, and you couldn’t see any empty space. At that time football united our country like nothing else in the world.”
He was outgrowing Valencia, though, and the Premier League siren called a year later. “Yes! This is the moment now! I felt very happy with my professional life in Chelsea. I lived in Battersea. I felt very happy with London with the freedom. I opened my mind completely, to what different cultures could be, learn a new language. London has everything you want from a city.”
He spent hours in the Tate Modern and the V&A, caught the Rolling Stones at the O2. “My personal life was as good as my professional life which helped. I met my girlfriend there, I became more mature, more knowledgeable about other things, about English culture.
“I embraced everything in English football, although it took me a bit to embrace the Christmas [fixtures] period! All the games! But it was always nice to bring my family and friends so they could see the Boxing Day game.”
A year after his arrival, his mother, Marta Garcia, and sister Paula played a significant part in his preparation for Chelsea’s Champions League climax against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. He recalls the final team meeting called by Roberto Di Matteo just before leaving the hotel. “Instead of doing a tactical masterclass, Roberto just said, ‘look at this screen, there are some people who want to say something to you’.” All the players stared transfixed as the screen filled with their relatives sending special messages. “For me, it was my mum. For other players, it was wives, kids. Roberto touched our emotional sides. He was very good at that. It paid off.”
Before kick-off, Mata received a message from Paula. “My sister was in Africa, and had been talking with someone about the connection between nature and human beings. She understands life, she knows me and knows I always dreamt of playing in a Champions League final. So she said to me, ‘You imagined this when we were growing up together. Just take a bit of grass, feel it, smell it, look around and enjoy it because maybe it’s the one opportunity in your life.’ I took a bit of the Allianz pitch, and was smelling it, and it was not the smell of the grass, it was more the connection with her, the connection with my childhood, with the football pitches, grass and mud in Asturias.”
And so to Manchester United, and a city he describes as “friendly, creative, special”. He sits in the Whitworth, ponders issues at United, dismissing any straw-clutching over absentees — “every club has injuries” — and looks forward in particular to the return of Anthony Martial. “He can win a game by himself. He has everything — vision, the ability to beat players, one against one. There’s not many players like that in the world.”
Mata smiles at the mention of the new signings Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dan James. “They’ve had a positive impact,” he nods, agreeing that Maguire could captain United one day. “Why not? He has experience, his physical presence is important, centre back is a good position to be a commanding personality in the team and he has international experience. He’s come to a big club, really having a chance to make that next step towards to even more.”
As for Wan-Bissaka, Mata knows all about the right back’s qualities from training. “He’s very, very good in defensive duties, very good in tackling. I’ve never seen any player like him, he’s unbelievable, even in training you think you’re past him and then he comes and takes the ball straight. He has very long legs! I can only see him improving. Like Anthony, he’s a shy, reserved guy but confident on the pitch. Dan also has [made] a very good start of the campaign, and everyone can see how quick he is.”
And what of the mercurial Paul Pogba? Mata again rallies to the defence of the dressing room. “Paul is a very important player for us. He has fantastic qualities: physically, his vision’s very good, his passing’s very good. He’s a complete midfielder. He’s got many things around him, social media life, but when you’re face to face with him, he’s very humble, a very nice guy, he has a good heart. I like him.”
Spending time with Mata, it is impossible to escape the feeling that, for all his undeniable pain over United’s travails, he has life in perspective, and not least when raising awareness and funds for Common Goal to “make it strong enough to take on the world’s toughest opponents from HIV/AIDs to gender inequality to youth unemployment”.
He sees life outside the bubble. He paints and reads extensively, even having the Dalai Lama’s deliberations among his bedside literature, along with JD Salinger and Ernest Hemingway. “I like the simplicity of Hemingway’s writing. His life was very not simple! He had a good time in Spain for many years in Madrid and Pamplona. But his way of writing is very direct, very straight. I read a lot.” He enjoys writing himself, a regular blog and now his life story so far.
He writes emotionally in Suddenly a Footballer that he fears “football [is] less and less about beauty”. He sighs when the words are read back to him. “I understand football is a big business, and clubs need to grow because they need to sign big players because otherwise you don’t compete,” he says. “It’s just when the commercial side of football becomes more important than the actual game itself, then the game has no future in the long term.”
He adds a caveat and a concern, emphasising the importance of the sport, the technique, the joy. “The Dutch team who didn’t win anything in ’74, ’78 [World Cup finals] are remembered. Why? Because they did things differently [with Total football]. I have the feeling that might not happen in the future if the winner is always right and the loser is always wrong.”
"Cohle Island knows no King but the King in the North, whose name is Cantona."
wish he'd do his job on the pitch with as much consistency as the blogs and interviews stating how much an improvement is needed. they really should all stay quiet until they end they season 3rd at worst and with a trophy in the bag
WhatsTheMata: sooooo some sort of indonesian wizard is cursing all of us
May 10, 2018 11:12:07 GMT
Deleted: 'indonesian wizard'
May 10, 2018 18:27:15 GMT
WhatsTheMata: Glad you think it's funny. When we get fucked around by the spells you just deleted you will take me seriously
May 19, 2018 11:57:48 GMT
No.7: Can this thread be unlocked or is it too early? not that i want Jose out now but i think were coming close to that time and want to hear peoples opinions on the subject.
Sept 20, 2018 10:15:25 GMT
cjjagzmoni: Pogba is a good lad minus the showboating..I think at Juventus he had Older players like Pirlo,Chiellini,Marchisio,Bonucci who shout and screams at him so he was more serious at Juve ,We dont have those type of leaders at United to caution him.
Nov 1, 2018 3:36:38 GMT
geo: Cardiff City - Huddersfield Town - Bournemouth - Newcastle United = 12 points. Back in the hunt. Come on.
Dec 19, 2018 17:55:18 GMT
geo: Job done as above - next step, stay unbeaten until we get to the PSG game.
Jan 3, 2019 23:17:42 GMT
theedge: Just discovered this forum. I live in Canada so don't get to many games, but I get to watch all the games live. Last 2 games attended in person: Europa League Final in Stockholm 2017, FA Cup Final 2016. Won the last 11 I've been to. I need to go more often
Apr 1, 2019 23:25:01 GMT
simes: Kazakhstan....well blow me down...been there many a time, not so bad a journey. FC Astana are not a bad outfit, gave Celtic a good run, and the National side beat Scotland. What do you reckon a walk over? BTW its easy to get to, I always use Air Astana.
Aug 30, 2019 14:11:59 GMT
snan1218: Hi,I'm very new member,the Red Devil from Malaysia.
Oct 10, 2019 9:16:40 GMT
shah: Hi i am shah been united fan from birec
Jan 24, 2020 8:33:02 GMT