Juan Mata.

Mata: My special relationship with Eric

Tuesday 26 May 2020 22:00

As footballers, it’s tough to think of two more differing characters than those of Juan Mata and Eric Cantona.

The former is a shy, straight-talking midfielder, who is more than happy to let his team-mates take the limelight. Eric, on the other hand, certainly differs in this regard, and as a player, the enigmatic and philosophical Frenchman often appeared to revel in the drama football can throw up.

Yet, despite their contrasting personalities, the duo have formed a strong friendship in recent years, as Juan explained as part of his MUTV Takeover.
Juan met Eric for the first time in January 2019, due to their mutual involvement in the Common Goal initiative.
“Eric Cantona has always been a very special player for me, since I was a kid,” the Spaniard told us. “I remember him being an artist on the pitch and scoring these great goals and providing amazing assists for his team-mates. He scored some important goals, like the one against Liverpool in the FA Cup final.

“Also the celebrations and the aura that was around him. He certainly was, and is, a special character.”

Juan’s admiration for our former striker means he is always interested in reliving Eric’s years as a Red, as well as hearing from the great man himself.

As a result, Mata has selected to watch Eric Cantona: Reflections of an Artist as part of his MUTV Takeover. The 32-year-old is in charge of our TV channel for one day only, and has selected six cracking shows to be scheduled, including the documentary on the Frenchman.
“I have to pick this because of these reasons, and because, when I came to Manchester, I met him,” Juan explained. “We have a great relationship; he’s a really nice person.

“I actually met Eric because he joined the Common Goal movement. He was our first mentor at Common Goal. We had some time together, we had lunch and it was a very nice experience for me.

“I remember him as a player, so being with him, and sharing this moment with me, it was very precious for me. I choose him for what he was on the pitch, and his personality and aura outside of the pitch.

“When you have lunch with him, you feel that he is a different character. His life - because of his experiences at Manchester United and elsewhere - it’s just a special life and he has a special personality. 

“He was funny and very calm when we met. We spoke about football nowadays and how it has changed and things like that. He’s also an artist. After football, he has become an actor. He actually wrote some books and drew a few drawings in a notebook that after, he published. He also reads a lot. He likes his philosophy and he’s a very interesting character. That’s how I felt he was when we met.”
C'est magnifique! Relive some of Eric's best moments in a red shirt.
Juan has been a pioneer for the Common Goal movement in recent years and spoke about his gratitude to Eric for taking such an active role in the charitable organisation.

“To be honest, it has been great that he’s joined and it’s great that he shares the belief that football can help many people in the world,” said Mata. 

“His contribution has been as a mentor, meaning that, as an ex-football player, he can be an example for all of us and especially for the new generation of players. They see how he is committed with these movements and he had an active part in visiting one of the organisations that we collaborate with.

“He came and he was with the kids and he spoke to them and played some football. He played an active part with that and he also had a conversation about Common Goal with the president of UEFA. It was very nice and he’s very active in his involvement.

“He also went with Jurgen Griesbeck, the founder of Common Goal, to do a massive speech during a convention about football.”

You can watch Eric Cantona: Reflections of an Artist on MUTV at 13:30 and 22:00 this Wednesday (27 May), as part of Juan’s MUTV Takeover. The other five programmes selected by the Spaniard will be announced on Wednesday morning.