Juan Mata on Moyes, Van Gaal, Mourinho and Ole
Few players in world football are better placed to offer assessments on the merits of the different managers they have worked under than Juan Mata.
The playmaker has been schooled by some of the greats of the game during his time with Valencia, Chelsea and Manchester United, not to mention the Spanish national team, with whom he won the World Cup in 2010.
Now the fan favourite has opened up about each of the bosses he's worked under during his time in Manchester, as part of a wide-ranging chat with UTD Podcast.
Read on for his verdict on David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer...
DAVID MOYES (2014)
“I always feel bad when a manager has to go, because it means that you are not doing right, or you are not getting results. So it's not a nice feeling. So unfortunately he had to go. But of course, I'm very thankful to him.
“What I remember the most about that season was in the last game. Ryan Giggs was our caretaker manager at that time, and we always do the ‘lap of honour’, let's say. You say 'thank you' and 'goodbye and see you next season'.
“I was very afraid of that, because we were seventh in the league, a position Man United should never be, so I was like: we're going to wave and they're going to boo us back, they're going to insult and they're going to be like they should feel, because I understand that. I came from Spain and I know how things can turn difficult when the team is not performing.
“You know, I didn't want to look to the people just in case, and I was embarrassed. But half-way, I realised that they were clapping, they were singing, they were encouraging us, saying it doesn't matter, next season, next season. I was just like: this is incredible.
“Honestly, it was unbelievable to have such fans behind you. You're seventh in the league with Manchester United, having been winners the year before with Sir Alex Ferguson. And they don't lose their patience and they say, 'Keep going, it doesn't matter'. It got me a bit emotional, because I didn't expect it.”
LOUIS VAN GAAL
“He was scary! He was scary, I tell you! He was a very nice man, very genuine. Very sensible. You wouldn't expect that, but he was very sensible. He could even get emotional and crying sometimes when he was speaking about important matters that he found with the right values, or the right football... he got emotional.
“But I remember the first meeting we all had with him. It was in LA. We were doing a pre-season tour. So the manager said: 'I want to meet you one by one in this room after dinner'. I was like 'okay'.
“Everyone went, whatever. My turn. So I arrive to the room and it was him, Ryan Giggs, a bottle of Rioja, red wine, and three glasses. He said: 'Do you want to have the drink?' And I said, 'No, no, it's fine'. He said, 'Okay, I'll have it'. So he had the drink, and he said, 'Tell me who you are?'
“I mean, 'My name is Juan, I'm 26, I play football'. 'No, no, no. Tell me who you are as a man. Do you have family? What do you find important in life?'
“I remember he had like paper, where he had set up the tactics for the team and that year, and he was like 'Where do you think you will fit best here?' I was like 'here' and he said 'No'. 'Here?' 'No.'
“So we had trained that pre-season with five in the back, two [in midfield], one no.10, and he put me in that no.10 and he said 'You're going to play here' and I was like 'Great'. I didn't want to put it myself! And from that moment, you realised: he can look scary in the face-to-face, because also he goes too close to you. But after that, he's a very warm and genuine man. Ryan Giggs was there trying to hold his laugh!
“He used to tell us after games: ‘Try to go and sign for the fans. Don't get in your cars and leave. I received this morning a letter from a mother that thanks me personally because you, you and you the other day went to see her kids somewhere.’
“So he was more than a football manager with his tactics; he was a great human being and I learned a lot from him in that sense. We had some good moments also: qualifying for the Champions League and winning the FA Cup, which I felt was very important for us and for him.
“He had a speech in which he thanked us for winning the trophy and how happy he was. I don't think he knew if he was going to continue or not, so it wasn't a proper farewell. But it was an emotional speech, and after that of course we exchanged messages and things, but it was sad to see him [go]. Especially because of how he was as a man.”
“I wasn't nervous. I was feeling like those six months at Chelsea where I stayed, I was feeling 'Let's go for it, you know?' I didn't play as much as I would have liked to with him in Chelsea, but you know football changes, and Chelsea's squad is different to United's squad.
“So many people were asking me, 'What did you say in the beginning?' I was like, 'I'll tell you – we spoke about Manchester, and a game that Barcelona had played a few days ago, and football’. It was completely normal and good relationship between us.
“The respect is mutual, and we never had any personal problem. The situation was a football situation. He played in a certain way that maybe didn't suit perfectly my qualities as a player, and that's it. Sometimes it happens in football.
“But my mentality was: okay, I'm going to try. My family was a bit scared. The fans were telling me, 'What are you going to do?' But I had it clear in my mind that I'm going to stay and prove that I can play much more than people think, and I did. And it's one of the things that I feel very proud [of] in my career: having made that decision, testing myself and keeping going and playing, at the end, the Carabao Cup final, the Europa League final, and feeling an important player in the squad. That's how I felt before, and how I felt with him.”
OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER
“Of course, I heard much about him as a player. About that goal, about the many goals. So we had a meeting between us, the team, and they said: 'Listen, it's probable that Ole's going to come. He's going to take care of the team until the end of the season. He's coming from Molde in Norway.'
“As soon as he came in, you could see the positivity. You could see the Man United DNA. He knew everyone, he felt like a proper United fan, and he was happy and smiley and full of energy. Until today. So we stay with him, and I think that's a good sign of things going okay.
“I feel young, honestly, in my body and in my mind, but obviously I've been playing in the club, and in English football and professionally for 12-13 years now, and so that gives me experience to – especially in difficult situations – behave in a certain way or give advice to the youngsters or something like that, and I think he values that also.
“Me, as a player, what I can give on the pitch, but also that I will try my best off the pitch for the new players that come, like now Bruno [Fernandes] and Odion [Ighalo], for the youngsters that come through the Academy like Brandon [Williams], Chongy [Tahith Chong], Angel [Gomes] and Jimmy [Garner].”
You can listen to the full Mata episode of UTD Podcast now, on Deezer and other podcast providers.