The people and players who inspire Mata
In our latest 'My Inspiration' interview, Juan lists the people and players who've had a big impact on his career...
What inspired you to first play football? “It has to be my dad. He was a professional football player and of course my friends, because football is the biggest sport in Spain. So when you're a kid the first thing that you do when you go to school is play football with your friends, and it's a way of making new friends also. My dad, being a professional football player, he used to take me to training and to games, and of course, he was a massive influence. I don't know if I would have been a football player if my dad hadn't played football.” Who inspired you the most growing up? “My dad, my mum, my sister, my family in general. Of course I had players that I looked up to. For example, when I was a kid I remember Pablo Aimar, an Argentinian player. He used to play for Valencia and other teams and he was fantastic. I used to love watching him. [Zinedine] Zidane, Ronaldinho, you know, these very creative attacking players. My family was an inspiration off the pitch and on the pitch those great players.” Who were your football heroes when you were younger? “Yeah, Aimar one of them for sure. Zidane, Ronaldinho like I said before. I used to love watching Guti also, a midfielder from Real Madrid. And because my dad's idol was [Diego] Maradona, I remember watching a lot of videos about Maradona on TV. We used to watch them together and of course he was different class. He was an artist on the pitch.” Was there any particular player you modelled parts of your game on? “I was very lucky because I was born in a time in Spain when football was changing. The style was changing to a more technical way of playing. The strength, the height, the power was not so important. We had a generation of players like Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta, [Sergio] Busquets, [David] Silva, [Santi] Cazorla, Cesc [Fabregas] and myself in the national team. I was very lucky to be with them because I learned a lot from them and I tried to analyse the way they play. I tried to bring those parts to my own game. When you are surrounded by these kinds of players you can only learn. Of course, I had admiration for them and they were examples for me on the pitch.” Before you go out on the pitch, is there something you think about to help you focus? “I try to visualise the game. Even from the night before. You always have these little moments when you see yourself playing a great ball, scoring a goal, doing things that probably will help the team on the pitch. They don't always work but if you have a positive mindset towards the game it helps you to perform better. I just try to focus on what I have to do, firstly, depending on the rival, depending on the gameplan. And secondly I try to focus on enjoying. So it's true, I think all players are nervous inside the tunnel. We all have excitement inside of our bodies but as soon as you step on the pitch you just do what you have to do and enjoy it as much as you can. But yes, I try to focus my thoughts on positive outcomes.” Who do you most look forward to sharing your successes with? “Well, my family, of course. One of the best things about being a professional football player is that when things go right - when you score, when you win, when you are having a great time during your career - you normally enjoy it more by sharing it with the people that you love, rather than keeping it to yourself. And sometimes I feel happier because my family and my girlfriend are happier than myself. Also it can go the other way, which is in the not-so-good moments they probably feel more worried and worse than I do. Maybe to make people around you happier is a great thing that football can give you.” What words or phrases best describe you as a player? “Well, I would like to think creative and professional. Always trying to be ready for whatever game it is and for the manager to pick me. I think that's very important, to be consistent through your career. If you're ready and you are consistent and you can be creative then it's probably good words to describe me.” What’s the most inspiring thing about Manchester United? “Well, United itself. That's why, when I had the chance to come, I felt inside of me: yes. I want to feel what a Manchester United player feels. The history of the club, which is incredible and very special, and of course the feeling of belonging to this club. It's the most special thing. With the incredible players who have played for the club, the incredible stadium, the incredible history and incredible values. All that together makes this club, without a doubt, a special club in the football world.” What is the one piece of advice you would pass on to any aspiring young footballer? “Believe in themselves. That’s probably the most important one. They’re going to come across difficulties during the way, but if they want to make it and achieve their dreams they have to keep believing in themselves because otherwise it’s much more difficult.”