Juan Mata signed a new contract at Manchester United at the end of last season to take him in to his seventh season at the club. While compatriot and friend Ander Herrera leaving the club, Mata’s future was also up in the air, but he has revealed in an interview with The Telegraph that he was determined to stay and help take the club back to where it should be.
To be honest, I didn’t know. I was not 100 per cent sure. I know what I felt – which was to stay – but I didn’t know what would happen. I wanted to stay here because I would not forgive myself to leave with a feeling of ‘yeah, but… what?’ I didn’t want that. You know it has been a challenging time. But I am quite proud of my mentality. It’s been difficult in some moments not playing, out of the team, the team not doing great, of critics, for everyone. It would have been easier for me to give up and say ‘it’s true that I came to this club in a difficult moment and it’s not meant to be. Bye’. No, I’m proud of saying ‘I want to make it happen, I want to fight for big trophies, I want to be here when we win’. And I want to be here when we bring this club back to where it belongs.
A few months after Mata signed, we finished seventh in the league and the Spaniard was worried about how the fans would react. But instead of the jeers or frustration he would have expected from other supporters, the players were applauded around the field, which made Mata realise the calibre of the fans he was playing for, given him a genuine appreciation and admiration for our support.
That was incredible and that said to me ‘look where you are’. I really didn’t know how they would react because in another club it probably would have been different. But when I saw their faces and they said ‘next year, next year’ and they keep doing that then in a way you feel – and you really feel – they deserve more. There have been moments of frustration for them and for us but we are all part of the same club and the only way to get through is to be together. And football is more than winning or losing a game, you know? If you travel around the world you see it is more than a sport, it’s a way of living or it’s an escape from a bad situation and that’s why you realise it is more. It’s a platform to help people build their lives. It’s the biggest force in the world.
Mata doesn’t take for granted what a privileged position he is in being a United player, acknowledging that it is special to play for this club, particularly when considering the legends who have been here before him.
I have made that realisation that football is more than just a sport. It’s a driver for many people in the world, it unites people, unites countries and it’s all down to the passion for the sport. That’s why when you are a football player for Manchester United you know you are in a lucky or privileged position.
Playing for this club, and I really mean this, is something very special in a player’s career. That’s a reality. Not many players are able to say ‘I played for Manchester United and I was there for six, seven, eight years’. That’s a privilege. And so being here, seeing how many millions of fans they have, makes you realise also that you are on the biggest stage that you can be.
When I was a kid in Spain I only ever wanted to be a professional football player. My dad was but he didn’t play in the first division and my only aim was to do that, to make my family proud. And then that came and many things after that and now I am at a club where David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Eric Cantona used to play and sometimes it feels surreal.