What goals mean to Mata
He notched his 50th strike in a Manchester United shirt back in September and Juan Mata sat down with Inside United recently to discuss "the best feeling you can have on a football pitch" - scoring goals.
Regarded as a real connoisseur of the game, our no. 8 is a player whose natural football brain works those few seconds quicker than most others on the pitch.
He’s a player who scores the spectacular goals on the big occasions (who can forget Juanfield?), who has the ability to see and execute a defence-splitting pass in an instant and who brings as much quality and calmness off the pitch as a person as he does on it.
And he’s a player whose love for the game burns as strongly as ever, even after World Cup, European Championship, Champions League and Europa League triumphs. In fact, it’s hard to find many players like Juan who see the game and life in general in the kind of measured, thoughtful and philosophical way he does.
In an extensive chat with Inside United, Juan reflected on some of his favourite strikes for the Reds and revealed what he thinks is often the most important pass leading up to a goal - and it's not what you'd necessarily expect...
THE BEST FEELING YOU CAN HAVE
“To score a goal is the best feeling you can have on a football pitch from my point of view. A goalkeeper might say that saving a penalty is the same feeling for them, but scoring a goal for me is an explosion of happiness and energy. It depends how and when you score but it’s the best feeling you can have. It doesn’t matter what position you play – defenders love to score, midfielders love to score and a striker needs to score. It’s key. And it has always been an important part of my game.
"Is there a goal in football I wish I’d scored? For me it would be the Maradona one. I’m sorry to say it in England! The one where he dribbled from half-way and scored in the World Cup, it was just incredible."
ALL GOALS COUNT - EVEN THE UGLY ONES!
“My 50th goal for United was special. It’s special to score your first goal and every single goal after that so imagine when you reach 50. Or I imagine when Wayne Rooney reached 250 for this club!
“I think it’s fair to say you get more satisfaction from the beautiful goals, but also from the important ones. If you can score an important goal which is also beautiful then that’s the best combination. But scrappy goals or ugly goals like people always say count as well. And, at the end of the day, every team needs goals and if you have players that can score even the ugly ones then that’s good.
“The ones that are lovely to score are the tap-ins, when someone plays the ball to you and you only have to shoot from one metre! I remember a few like that at the back post, those ones are nice also because they’re the ones that show you’re in the right place at the right moment. That’s not always valued for some.”
THE IMPORTANT GOALS ARE THE ONES THAT OPEN THE RESULT
“As I said, it feels so good to score an important goal. If you score a goal in a semi-final or a final or if your team is losing and you score the goal that starts the comeback or wins the game it’s just better. Rather than scoring in a 5-0 for example. I always say the most important goal is the one that opens the result and the players that score those goals are normally very good players.
“From my point of view the one I scored in the final of the European Championship [in 2012 for Spain] even though it was 4-0, was special. It was the closing of that Spanish football generation and winning trophies.
“At United scoring in the FA Cup final [in 2016], the goals at Anfield and some other important ones that won points or brought comebacks… they stand out.”
THE PASS BEFORE AN ASSIST IS VITAL
“The satisfaction of assisting is also big and great. If you make a great pass and you leave your striker or whoever with a one-on-one with the goalkeeper or even, like I said before, for a tap-in, you hope they will score and then they will come and celebrate with you! [Smiles] It doesn’t reach the feeling of scoring a goal unless it’s an incredible assist or you had some incredible play from one or two or three players as well.
“I always speak about the world we live in now which is based on stats, people try to make stats about everything – tackles, physical performances, assists, goals… but for me there are some kind of assists which you cannot measure and for me they are very important – it’s the pass before the last assist, especially if you break the defence with that pass. It doesn’t count as an assist but most of the time it’s more important than the actual last touch before the goal.
“So in a world of stats we should try to make that stat count because I value it from players and I think people will value it too.”
Read more from Juan in the January 2021 issue of Inside United which is on sale on 15 December. Order it online now.