Juan Mata: “I am motivated to live in places thanks to football that without football I would never be able to visit” | Soccer | Sports
A mixture of soccer and literature began to lead Juan Mata (Burgos; 35 years old) to Japan. The former Chelsea and Manchester United player arrived at Vissel Kobe in September, but the trip began almost two decades before: “We were 16 or 17 years old, we were at a youth national team camp, and Esteban Granero told me: ‘Read this book, which I think you are going to like.’ And I loved him.” He was Tokio blues, by Haruki Murakami, the first seed of interest for a footballer with voracious curiosity, who remembers by video call the other moment that pushed him there: “I came in 2012 with Chelsea. We played the Club World Cup here,” he remembers. “I was very curious to get to know him better.”
Ask. At this point in your career, how do you choose a destination?
Answer. The priority is the football decision. Coming to a team with the opportunity to win another league motivates me a lot. It was similar to last year’s decision to go to Galatasaray. For living the experience of getting to know Istanbul, but also for being in a big club and being able to win a league (they won the title in Turkey). But also coming to Japan is coming to a different culture, different customs, and that motivates me. It motivates me to be able to live thanks to football in places that without football I would never be able to know so well.
P. Do you see there what you saw reading Murakami?
R. I have begun to understand why he expresses things that way, with that atmosphere, with that melancholy. He is melancholic too. Yes, I see it every day. I see things from his novels reflected from him. He talks about work-family balance, about society, about travel… There are a lot of trains here, people travel a lot from work to home. There are many jazz bars like the ones he mentions in his novels.
P. It was like his first door to Japan.
R. Starting with Murakami, and coming here, I’m trying to get to know other authors, like Mishima, who I’m starting to read now, and I’m liking it. It’s trying to discover as much as I can in the time I’m here. What Japan was in the past, what Japan is today. I’m learning things from their history. I didn’t know that for almost two centuries it had been practically isolated from the world… Those things that make Japan such a peculiar country.
P. What surprised you?
R. It is a country that does not leave you indifferent, a very very enriching country. It is helping me to learn about other customs, other codes, other rituals, even communication. It is a country that highly values what is not seen: what is intuited, what is insinuated; but it is not said, it is not expressed.
Now I really start to value each day, each training session, each rondo, each finish; because I’m closer to it not happening.
P. And about football?
R. It is quite rich tactically. Many teams change systems. They start with a system, suddenly they change if they are losing, they change if they are winning. They are players of great technical quality, very dedicated. Another thing that surprises me is that in the last minutes, from 85 to 90, many goals are scored.
P. It seems like very fast football. How does someone who has stood out more for his head than his speed handle it?
R. I had no other way to survive (laughs). When you have another way of playing, your most developed qualities are different. You can stand out in another way. You can be the player who changes the dynamics of the game, the one who breaks that tactical rigidity.
P. Do you still enjoy football?
R. There are moments and moments, but what pulls me the most, which is why I continue playing, is because I go to train, do a rondo, do an exercise with crosses and shots or stay to shoot free kicks after training, what happens in the own field still touches me inside, and motivates me. That inner fire. Also, now I really start to value each day. When you’re younger, you go to training, you train, you leave, and you never think about what will happen next. You are starting. Now I really value every training session, every warm-up, every rondo or every finish, because I am closer to it not happening than to 40 years happening.
P. How do you get along with competition and enjoyment?
R. We play to enjoy, but we play to win. And my career has also been based on that, on competition. Which can sometimes limit the enjoyment a bit. It’s a bit of a dilemma, because sometimes that demand, that responsibility, that excessive competitiveness can limit the capacity for enjoyment… You have to have that kind of balance.
What most differentiates Cristiano Ronaldo is his mentality: he has the ability, no matter how badly things are going in a match, to go from 0 to 100 and score a great goal that wins the final having missed three penalties before.
P. Of the footballers you have played with, who has caught your attention the most?
R. Iniesta comes to mind. His way of playing. He has shown that without being a tall player, especially fast, especially strong, with a superior decision-making and execution capacity, and understanding of the game, he has played at the highest level that can be played. When we were in the national team and we trained, seeing him was a delight. He had the ability to break away from players, to break lines, with apparent ease, which is very difficult. You try to do it, and it doesn’t turn out the same. Andrés, Xavi… that whole era of the national team. Xabi Alonso, Busquets… above all, midfielders. In London, players like Drogba, like Lampard… Terry, like Petr Cech, who is a phenomenon. And then in Manchester, players like Rooney. A total player. In his last years he came down to play as a midfielder and he was very good. And as a forward he was very good. It was incredible the talent he had, and the physique, and the mentality of him. And then, obviously, the year I spent with Cristiano Ronaldo I understood why he has done what he has done, and continues to do. Because of his mentality, because of his daily routines on and off the field. Because of his insistence and consistency. He is outstanding.
P. Do their routines draw so much attention in an already very professional environment?
R. What differentiates him the most is his mentality: he has the ability to, no matter how bad things are going in a game, no matter how bad he is playing, no matter how bad his form is at the moment, go from 0 to 100 and score a great goal that wins the final having missed three penalties before.
P. From a very young age, he was interested in the social effect that football can have. He has promoted Common Goal, a project in which players and coaches donate 1% of their salary to social causes. What led you to feel that concern?
R. I think it was because of my environment, my family and my friends. That reality environment. You are a soccer player, thanks to your qualities or your luck. Thanks to football, you have been able to enjoy life in a privileged way, but life is more than that. And above all, football is more than that, more than a sport and entertainment. For many people, football is a way of life, in many cases an escape valve, in others a source of stability and security. All this, added to my experience traveling… seeing what soccer means in the popular culture of those countries… conversations with my sister, conversations with my grandfather, who passed away at that time. It was a moment of reflection: what is football? Football also gives me a lot of satisfaction and has brought great joy to my family, and to people I love; more than myself, and that’s also fascinating about football.
P. How is the project?
R. It continues to grow, we continue to have new members, male and female players, we are adding brands, companies. I don’t know if when I stop competing I’ll still be involved in professional football; What I do know is that I will definitely continue with Common Goal.
P. Are you starting to think about what comes after football?
R. Since I have no idea what I’m going to do after playing, I’m trying to educate myself as broadly as I can. I am taking courses, both in coaching and club management. I am trying to learn from different points of view within professional football, with LaLiga, UEFA, FIFA, some university, some master’s degree. I’m trying to see what really clicks for me. But I still have the will to continue playing as long as I can, and continue enjoying.
P. Are you still interested in trying other leagues, other countries?
R. I don’t know which one, but I’m interested. First, see how this experience goes in Japan, until either I or the situation allows it, but I am interested in continuing to play soccer and having experiences thanks to soccer in different countries. It interests me, it motivates me. That’s why I went first to Turkey and now to Japan, and I still have the same motivation to enjoy.
You can follow EL PAÍS Deportes in Facebook y Xclick here to receive our weekly newsletter.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits