Juan Mata – The Only Cultured Footballer Left Standing
28 years ago this week a woman gave birth to a baby boy in the modest town of Burgos, northern Spain.
She couldn’t have foreseen it back then, but years later she would be taking her first ever helicopter ride courtesy of her son, on the way to a training complex in Manchester. Juan Mata was hot-footing it out of London and heading north to meet one of his boyhood idols Ryan Giggs.
But the new face that arrived at Carrington that day from Chelsea was keen to point out that the extravagant use of transport was due to necessity and not excess, as he rushed from the Capital to put pen to paper on a transfer deal that made him Manchester United’s record signing at a mere £37m.
Once the paperwork was completed and promotional photographs snapped, the new kid on the block retired to a hotel room and embarked on a week of accustoming himself to his new surroundings. But unlike so many others nowadays, the hotspots and nightlife that Manchester has to offer weren’t on his list.
Firstly, he took himself inside an empty Old Trafford on a non-match evening, taking a peek at his new stage without even the company of a fluorescent-clad steward.
It wasn’t long before he visited the club museum to swot up on the history of the institution he was joining, learning about the Munich Air Disaster…
…and the impact it had on Manchester United and the local community.
Since then, the image of Mata as a cultured and socially aware Premier League footballer amidst a gaggle of money and fame-obsessed peers has flourished. While Edurne Garcia, the popstar girlfriend of David de Gea described Manchester as “uglier than the back of a fridge,” Mata was recommending visits to the refurbished Whitworth Art gallery.
“I went there a few days ago and I was really surprised by some of Cai Guo-Qiang’s works and his drawing technique using gunpowder,” he said, falling on the deaf ears of any colleagues who could spare a second to glance at his online blog, his means of communicating to the fans.
If Mata’s frequent visits to Manchester’s art galleries, museums and the cafés of the city’s cultural Northern Quarter weren’t enough to endear fans to his down-to-earth ways, this week Juan Mata gave an interview in which he stated that the huge earnings garnered by footballers leave them detached from supporters, and hence he would be happy take a pay cut if there was less business influence in the sport.
“I don’t enjoy the business side of football. You see kids who think they’re rock stars; wearing extravagant clothes and driving flash cars… sometimes you have to take them aside and have a word.”
It’s difficult to read these words from Juan Mata and not have your mind wander towards his teammate Memphis Depay, who in the week that the gongs are handed out at the Player of the Year gig, looks like being the transfer flop of the season.
It all started so well for Memphis, arriving from Eindhoven as the new young European talent and scoring a stunning goal in the qualifying stages of the Champions League against Brugge. But since then it has been an array of fashion faux-pas, monsterous motors and more importantly poor performances that have categorised Depay’s first season at United as a failure, as he threatens to provide Manchester with the buffoonery it has been missing since Mario Ballotelli left for his new playground in Italy.
There’s no doubt he has the talent, but he needs to take a leaf out of Mata’s blog and walk before he can run. As United sit in lowly 5th, desperate to sneak a Champions League spot for next season, youngsters Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford were pictured this week at a theme park on a rollercoaster ride.
No killjoy would begrudge the lads a bit of fun, especially Rashford who finds himself thrust into the limelight, performing superbly and living the dream at the age of 18. But at such a crucial stage of the season for United, maybe the grandad in me would prefer to see them papped coming out of the Imperial War museum with Juan Mata. While Giggs and Sharpe had Fergie keeping an eye on them in the early 90s, Lingard and Rashford have nobody.
As the rumoured arrival of Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford draws ever nearer, there could be bad news on the horizon for fans of the Spanish midfielder. In his final days at Chelsea, he found himself sidelined by Mourinho with no explanation as to why.
Should the Portuguese be ‘the latest one’ to take the wheel at Manchester United, he could make no better introductory gesture than to heal old wounds with Mata and hand him the captain’s armband at Old Trafford.
Forget his talent, his maturing influence would be sadly missed at a club which is threatening to lose its discipline and allow players like Memphis Depay to earn obscene fortunes whilst wasting their careers and giving very little back to the fans.