Juan Mata looks to the future - sees a vital role for football in 2021

Manchester United and Spain star Juan Mata believes football will play an increasingly important role in the future as society works to overcome the global effects of Covid-19.
And the Laureus Ambassador has fulsome praise for players like Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Hector Bellerin for the efforts they have made individually over the last year to combat the pandemic.
In a wide-ranging interview with, Mata also assesses the football scene and says the one thing he would not like to see would be Barcelona super star Lionel Messi come to play for Manchester City. “If he comes to Manchester, I hope it’s to my club – not the other,” he said.
Mata says he would still vote for Messi to receive the 2020 Ballon d’Or, if it had not been cancelled.
“I have a soft spot for Messi, he is a guy that every time I see him play football makes my life better. Of course all the players can have better seasons than him, but he's the one that I like the most, and I will give him the trophy for the best player every year, because of what he's done in his career.
“What he still does is just unbelievable. I hope if he comes to Manchester it’s to my club and not the other.”
Mata, who supports the work of Laureus Sport for Good in his role as Laureus Ambassador and is heavily involved in the Common Goal initiative, says sport and individual sportsmen and women have been doing an important job in recent years in trying to give back to society.
“I don't think there is any better way to connect to as many people in the world, and of course football is the biggest sport in the world. 2021 is going to be a very important year for sport in trying to help as much as we can to overcome this pandemic.
 “I see Marcus Rashford, my friend, my team-mate, doing what he's doing for a lot of kids in this country, I see Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, with the football players’ fund to help Covid, Hector Bellerin, my fellow Spanish, also a friend, doing a lot of things for the planet.
“So I think there is now a situation in which we football players, we are understanding our privileged position, our platform, and we know that we can help and we can do it in a very efficient way.
“I have congratulated Marcus, he's 23 and what he has done on the pitch for us, and for the English national team, has been great, and he will keep doing that because he's a fantastic player. But especially over the last months, what he's done here in England, helping so many kids with food, it's just been great.
“And he's lived it himself, he suffered that situation through his family, with his mum, so he knows what he's doing, he knows how many people it's helping, and that he's trying to tackle a situation that so many kids unfortunately live here in the UK. So, I only said ‘Congratulations, keep going, and you have my full support in any way because it's something that needed to be done, and I'm very happy that you are the one that is doing it’.”
Mata is a highly talented and experienced member of the Manchester United squad competing in a most unpredictable English Premier League season which has seen some unexpected results.
He said: “It’s a different time for all of us. Games are not the same without fans, we know there's no atmosphere. Football has changed, but we cannot complain. Thankfully we are fit to play and to give something spectacular for the fans.
“It hasn't been a perfect start of the season for us in terms of the Premier League, with not so good results, especially in the beginning. In the Champions League we did very well in the first two games, winning six points against PSG and Leipzig, of course who are very difficult teams. Then we had a bad day in Turkey, but we are still top of the group.
“I think we were improving and we will improve. The big favourites to win the Premier League are also having difficulties getting results, so I would prefer to focus on short term goals, which is the next few games. Of course I think Manchester United is a club that should be playing Champions League every year, so that's an important aim.”
He is complimentary about the arrival of Bruno Fernandes and Donny van de Beek and believes they are valuable additions to the team. He enjoys playing with them.
“Both of them are great players who understand football, I think, more or less the way I do, which is trying to play with combinations, with passes and movement, and I enjoy playing with them a lot, because we understand each other very well on the pitch.
“We like to play the last pass to the striker, we like to play the positional game that we played some years ago in Spain, and they are also used to playing in Holland and Portugal, so it's great to play with them. I’m sure they will be very important players for the future of this club.”
What is Mata’s assessment of the current Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?
“As a professional football player, it's very unlikely you will have the same manager for your whole career. It used to happen before, for example, Sir Alex Ferguson was here for 20 years. So, the best thing that you can do, as a football player nowadays, is to adapt to the manager that you have at each given moment.
“Right now, we have Ole, who is a legend of the club, who is a very nice person, and he has a way of playing which is different from Jose Mourinho, for example. I think one of my best qualities that I've had over the years is trying to adapt to the way of playing football that the manager has.
“Jose Mourinho is a manager that likes to play a more compact game with quick players up front for the counter attack. And, you know, I try to adapt to each one of them, I played more with some of them than the others, but I always try to take the best out of them.
“So, yes. In different situations in my career I've had the support of the managers, in others situations it was more difficult, but I saw it as a challenge, I tried to take every difficult situation into an opportunity to improve as a player, and that's what I did, I believe.”
Mata has had a highly successful career, yet he remains modest. When asked for the most memorable moment, he could cite the 2010 World Cup win with Spain or the 2012 Champions League success with Chelsea, but instead choses a more personal experience.
“I'm very proud, every time we are in the bus, for example, going from the hotel to the stadium when life was normal, and I would see a kid wearing my shirt, the No.8, with my name on it. It always felt like the first time I've seen it. Seeing a kid or a couple of kids with my shirt makes me feel very happy and excited, and it makes me keep going to achieve more things in my career and for them.”
Mata is a Laureus Ambassador, and a proud advocate for using sport as a tool for social change. He is also at the forefront of the Common Goal movement, in which athletes pledge 1% of their earnings to a central fund, which is then allocated to organisations that harness the positive power of football.
On his belief in the work of Laureus Sport for Good, and the positive impact football can have on young people around the world, Mata said:
“For me, football is a professional sport in which I win or lose or I can win trophies or not, but, I know that for many millions of kids around the world it's an escape, it's a way of living, it's a way of trying to make their life better and be in charge of their future.
“It's a way of leaving violence behind, it's a way of making friends and having a healthier lifestyle. I know how powerful football can be and is. And in general, sport. Of course I think that it is the biggest tool that we have as humankind to try to reach people, to try to help people, to try to communicate to people through sport, because everyone loves sport. It doesn't matter if you like football, tennis, whatever you like, you do it with passion, and I think we should acknowledge that and we should try to use it for the positive even more.”
Laureus Sport for Good is a global charity that supports children and young people by using the power of sport to end violence, discrimination, and disadvantage. Over the last 20 years, Laureus Sport for Good has raised more than €150m for the Sport for Development sector, reaching and helping change the lives of more than 6 million children and young people since 2000. Laureus Sport for Good currently supports more than 200 programmes in over 40 countries that use the power of sport to transform lives.

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