Chelsea’s Spanish schemer, Juan Mata, recently did a very good one-on-one interview with Philippe Auclair for France Football. Auclair is their England Correspondent, and is a regular on the Guardian’s Football Weekly Podcast. His Eric Cantona Biography, “Cantona – The Rebel Who Would Be King” has been nominated for several awards. He described Mata as a superb player and superb interviewee.
You can find an imperfect translated version below.
PA: Juan Mata, do you really realise what you did in 2012?
JM: “To be honest, I did not expect it. It was my first season in England and everything happened very quickly. I immediately found my rhythm with my team-mates. I had a chance to score a goal in my first match. After that, I enjoyed myself. I came to Chelsea because I wanted to win trophies and in my first year I won two, the first Champions League in the club’s history. I said, ‘How can I be so lucky?’ because it was nice work and it is often luck that makes you a winner.”
PA: Do you talk about it with your friends who are still in Spain?
JM: “Yes. This is part of football. There is also economy, unpaid wages, debt. Things improved this year. The season before, it was much more complicated. I know players who could no longer pay their mortgages.”
PA: Hence the temptation to go play elsewhere?
JM: “In England, clubs must demonstrate they can pay wages before the season. The accounts at Spanish clubs are sometimes complicated. Maybe they should rethink the way TV money is distributed. It should be more balanced. But I remain optimistic. Our country is going through a difficult phase, but football, it will continue. We remain a beautiful country full of people who want to work. Teams always play excellent football and it continues to produce very good players. La Liga remains, with the Premier League, the best Championship in the world. I watch as many games as I can!”
PA: It has long been suspected that the Spanish players can succeed in England. How to explain their success?
JM: “We play differently. We offer something different from what people expect from English football – very physical box-to-box (one end to the other). Spanish football is going through a unique period in time with all their trophies, and we enjoy it. We want Spanish players in other major leagues and, suddenly, we find another world, other football, and we progress. This is the opposite of a vicious circle. It’s for us to take advantage of. The Selección (Spanish National Team) benefits. Many players have grown up in English football before returning to Spain, like Cesc Fabregas. He came to Arsenal at 15; he has often said he learnt a lot from English football.
PA: Is this your technique which allows you to you adapt to English football faster than others?
JM: “Exactly. After 60 minutes, the matches become crazy, there is more going on in midfield. And if you are a player of quality, you can choose the right option, pass, dribble or shoot. And you have more space in England and elsewhere. Not early in the game, but when teams begin to tire.”
PA: You are part of an exceptionally fruitful generation. Is this luck?
JM: “One explanation may be that in Spain almost all the teams, all the academies, all Seleccións, from the youngest to seniors, try to play the same way. At Selección, from seven or eight years we try to evolve with the same style. And you add to that players like Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso, who are among the best in world.”
PA: Is that how you were taught in your first football club Oviedo?
JM: “I have been fortunate to have excellent managers since my infancy. They taught me to love football. I went to training and matches with a smile, thanks to my team-mates and my coaches. That pleasure is crucial.”
PA: Are you worried to see so many Spanish players leave the league at a young age?
JM: “Yes, a little. I’m concerned for the competitiveness of La Liga. We have two teams fighting for the title and the third ended 30 points back. If you do not play for Real or Barça, you have almost no chance to win a trophy. That is why players go. Not only because of money, but to feel that they can be competitive and have the hope of winning something.”
PA: Even you, who were in Valencia, another big club?
JM: “Valencia played two consecutive finals Champions League (in 2000 and 2001, won by Real and Bayern), but alas, it is almost impossible now to win the Championship in Spain. This cannot be good for Spanish football. Supporters of other clubs are also suffering.”
PA: We have often talked of political and cultural divisions in the Spanish team. Are recent successes due to the fact that they were overcome?
JM: “I did not see any change. As in any countries, there are people who think otherwise, and so much the better. But for me, playing for the Selección is a dream. When we won the World Cup and the Euros, everyone was proud to wear this jersey. We cannot talk about clans. Before and after international competitions, we are rivals, but together we all share the same goal.”
PA: How much is the personality of your coach Vicente Del Bosque to thank?
JM: “Of course. He is someone… normal. He puts you at ease, remains calm and is very intelligent. He knows what he’s doing at every moment, with his players or to study our opponents. He has a remarkable talent for managing people in the locker room. He is the best.”
PA: People underestimate him as a technician?
JM: “If they do, they are wrong. Tactically, he controls all. He had already shown that at Real. In the past, Spain played with passion, but not always with tactics. With Javier Clemente, it was really La Roja. Today we always have this passion, but we also have this tactical expertise. 4-3-3, 4-2-1-3… we have the players to adapt.”
PA: Even 4-6-0?
JM: “(Laughter.) We sometimes trained like that, without a center-forward. This was not a shock when we used this system. It was a possibility. And so when Mr. Del Bosque told us that we play without a number 9, it was normal. ‘Guys, today we play like that.’ Apparently we have no-one up there, but in fact, there is always someone in this position. It can be Cesc (Fabregas) or Iniesta. There is still a player in the position to shoot.”
PA: Is this ability to adapt down to Spain’s tactical superiority?
JM: “We are very flexible, tactically speaking. I played left wing, right wing, pre-center, support striker, so that was enormously helpful in my learning. All players may change the position in the Selección to a different position from the one they usually occupy. Arbeloa can play right back or central, Alonso 6 or 8, Iniesta on the wing or in the center, like Cazorla, like Cesc, like me. This is an asset.”
PA: Many of you have these qualities!
JM: “Almost too many! (Laughter) The hardest thing for Mr. Del Bosque is that he must choose.“
PA: This competition is not easy for a player like you, who would start in most other major European teams?
JM: “I must add one thing: it’s extraordinary be part of a group which has many great players and that has experienced exceptional moments. This is true, of the 23 who were World and Euro Champs, there are only 14 or 15 who played. It is therefore necessary remember that football is a team sport, even though sometimes it’s hard. You work for your club, not Selección, and all you can do is train yourself well enough for the coach to ask questions.”
PA: What is the France team to Spaniards?
JM: “It remains one of the best teams in the world. And when we play against one of the best teams in the world, we want to show that that we are better. I have no doubt that France is still a great nation of football, although I understand that some people ask questions. In all positions, there are excellent players who are at large clubs. In the past, France was, how to say, our nemesis. (laughs). Since we won at the Stade de France (2-0, March 3, 2010, in a friendly) … We realised that we could beat you.”
PA: Is Casillas your candidate for the Ballon d’Or?
JM: “(Laughter) Can I answer in three parts? Being a good team-mate I mention Xavi – as a player, as a man, for he is in history, he has won everything. Of course, there are Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, because of their goals, their performance. But I would like the Ballon d’Or to go to one of my three friends, Iniesta, Xavi or Casillas. Each of them deserves it. Iniesta, because of his magic. Even in training, I have never seen a player doing what he does. It sounds easy, but it is not. Control, touch… magical. Iker Casillas is the best goalkeeper we have ever had in Spain. He has won everything with Real and with the Selección. And he remains very humble. Xavi, he has changed the way we play. The last Euro, it may have been the most important. This is one of the greatest players in history.
JM: “Because of his movement, his passes. He is a solution to all problems. A big player is the one who chooses the right option for each ball. Sometimes I see a match only to watch a player. As a kid for example, I watched Pablo Aimar at Benfica. I loved him. Then it was Zidane when I went to Bernabeu with my teammates. When we play, it’s hard to think so fast. That’s why Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso are examples.”
Juan Mata has a very good relationship with his fans, with a Twitter Account and a Facebook page. He also writes blogs for The Official Chelsea Website. In May 2012, he won an award for Asturias Sportsman of the year and had a park named after him. He is currently studying for two degrees (Sports Science and Marketing) through distance learning with a University in Madrid. He is a player and a man that Chelsea should be proud to have play for them.