Is sport about winning or about experience?
Mata: "It's about winning, but also about how"
"Compared to 99.9 percent of people, we earn obscenely a lot. I live in a bubble, real life is that of my friends." It was Juan Mata who made these sentences on Spanish television in April. You can safely call him a player who looks out over the football field. So it is fitting that he is involved as an ambassador for "Streetfootballworld", an organization that helps develop social projects around the world with the help of football. Mata was not nominated for the EM, but there are enough topics to be discussed with someone like him.
kicker: Mr Mata, you came to England when you were only 23 years old. How did you come to terms with the changeover to the very different style of football compared to Spanish football?
Mata: In Spain, I always watched the Premier League and thought it looked very exciting - the speed, all the chances and goals. When I was here, I realized that it really was - and I loved that from the first moment. There's something very special about the English league and the way the fans see the sport here.
kicker: But what is it like to be a very technical-minded player in this very physical game?
Mata: In the beginning it was a big issue because of course I'm not very big or strong physically. But it was comparatively easy because I just focused on playing my football. Of course you have to go to work here physically, but that's what I did. So I just got safer and better and better.
kicker: How did you feel in your last six months at Chelsea under José Mourinho when you were sidelined?
Mata: I was used to playing a lot so it was a difficult time in my career. But I learned from it. While I didn't play as much as I wanted, I made sure I was always ready and trained as best I could. In that way, I became a more complete player. In life we always learn from difficult moments.
kicker: You have always played in the Premier League this season, so things are going well for you under Louis van Gaal as coach?
Mata: It's our second season with him. He has his own understanding of football and training and in the second year we players got to know him better, also as a person. He is an honest person. It can be difficult - which he admits to himself - but it is always straightforward. I would like that from a coach, that he speaks about things clearly.
Bastian is a really funny guy. If he stays injury-free next season, I have a lot of confidence in him.Juan Mata on his teammate Schweinsteiger
kicker: What is Bastian Schweinsteiger like as a team-mate?
Mata: Bastian brought us a lot of experience as a player. After all, he won almost everything. He was a bit unlucky with injuries that he didn't play as much as he wanted. But he gives a lot to the team. Aside from his experience, he's a really fun guy and if he stays injury free next season I have a lot of confidence in him.
kicker: What is so special about playing for Manchester United?
Mata: For me, football is about winning, but it's also about how you win. With style. I believe in that, I love that. And that's what I've always associated with Manchester United: winning in style. Nowadays it is often only the result that counts. But for me it's more than that. If you can make the people in the stands enjoy it, that's better. And that's what I'm trying to do. I want someone who doesn't know anything about football to come to a game and when they leave they say, 'I like it because it's aesthetic. I like the way he fits, the way he controls the ball. ' This is how football should be.
"He's a really funny guy": Juan Mata (left) with teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger. picture alliance
kicker: Wasn't this joy a little too short in the end?
Mata: I understand the frustration of the fans because we are frustrated too. We all want the same thing - the coach, the players, the club officials and of course the fans. If we don't win, I feel bad, first for myself and then for the fans because they deserve more.
"The loyalty and passion of the United fans are incredible"
Mata: Because they're amazing. That's something I really feel in England: the loyalty of the fans. In my first season here we finished seventh and still did a lap of honor in front of the fans. I was a bit ashamed of only finishing seventh with United. But the loyalty and passion of the fans, even in the toughest moments - and it wasn't an easy year for the club - is incredible.
kicker: Life as a player can be very intense. Is it important not to lose touch with the outside world?
Mata: I love soccer and I've been playing since I was a little kid. But I also enjoy other areas of life and society, advertising and marketing for example. Or photography too. I think it's good for everyone to have different interests. One learns from it. It's good when you can relax. Sometimes football is taken too seriously.
kicker: What is important to you in your role for 'streetfootballworld'?
Mata: Football has the power to change lives all over the world. I believe that he has the power to bring people together. Not many things can do that these days. People everywhere have a passion for it. It is difficult for politics to reach people like this. Music is perhaps best able to do it like football. So, as footballers, we can make an important contribution to making the world a better place for those who do not have the means.
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