El País Interview: Juan MataPosted: June 23, 2011
Juan Mata sat down with Eduardo Rodrigálvarez of El País, where they talked about being the “old man” of the team, remaining humble, and of course, football…
He traducido la entrevista de Juan Mata con El País al inglés, donde hablan sobre ser el viejo del equipo, la humildad, y por supuesto, el fútbol…
In 2010, he became a World Cup champion with the senior team. Now, the Valencia striker is, at the age of 23, one of the veteran players of a team of guys who have the same style of play as those of the senior team and who today will play against Belarus to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Even though Jeffren, Capel, and Adrián are older than him by a few months, Juan Mata is, along with Javi Martínez, one of the two veteran players of the Spanish U-21 national team. Being a World Cup champion with the senior team builds character, despite belonging to the same generation as his peers. The Valencia striker has covered a lot of ground, and has become one of the players with most assists in the U-21 European Championship and one of the most admired footballers up in the stands in Denmark. A dream has brought him to this tournament, a chance to get an Olympic bid in London in 2012, which Spain will achieve if they beat Belarus today. Otherwise, they will play for third place on Saturday against the team that loses the other semi-final match (Switzerland vs. Czech Republic).
How does it feel to be the “old man” at 23 years old surrounded by so much youth?
I can’t even tell, but there are a lot of young players here; players who at 18 and 19 years old have already stood out and deserve to be here after only a couple of years.
Did you notice that small difference when it comes to living together?
No, I didn’t notice the age difference at all. At our age, you can’t really tell the difference between two or three years.
Do you feel as though you are the sports counselor?
I really don’t feel entitled to give anyone advice. These guys know football and how much concentration each game requires. If anything, I bring my experience. But these guys know football already.
Your presence in this tournament is related to the Olympic Games. Is missing some of your vacation more about your duty or about the ambition to get a bid for the London Games?
It’s an exercise of will. I think for both Javi and myself, it’s an honor to play with the national team. After having played with the senior team, we are still of age to be here and, above all, we have a clear objective and are really close to qualify for the Olympic Games.
For your resumé, it wouldn’t hurt to be the World Cup champion, the U-21 European champion, break the bad streak of absences in the Olympic Games, and to be in London in 2012.
I wish. I want to stay and win as much as possible. I’m competitive. I know it will be very difficult, but if we win two more games, we will win the European Championship and will have a chance to be in the Olympics. I think that Spanish football deserves to be there. Also, there will be the Euro for the senior team next summer. Selfishly, I hope to play both the European Championship and the Olympics. But, I’ll take it one step at a time.
In a short span of time, you and Javi Martínez have the opportunity accumulate a number of titles, prestige, experience; something that hasn’t happened in Spanish football in a few years.
We may be facing one of the best generations or the best generation of Spanish footballers, without detracting from anyone. Of course, there have been many good players in the past and we are getting results through the work of people who came before us. Just looking at the senior team, you see the high level of talent that they have and can understand why winning has become the norm.
Many people think that you’re all super professionals that only care about the money. Your presence and that of Javi or Busquets’ offer to play in this tournament is an act of humility…
It’s clear that our presence and our desire to play are not at all related to financial gain. It’s simply our dream.
From what we have seen in this group, that dream and enthusiasm is contagious.
When you play well and win, you gain confidence and enjoy yourself more. I think we’re improving in this tournament. I hope we haven’t reached our highest level yet. When you play well and enjoy playing, you enjoy winning even more. I think that’s also Spain’s style.
Does all the training seem long for such few games?
Yes, there are days that go by a little slowly, but I adapt quickly to training sessions or the waiting period between matches.
Do you think it helps everyone to be isolated from club-related problems?
Perhaps in this tournament, as in last year’s World Cup or the Confederations Cup two years ago, you focus on what you have to do there. You train here and think about the next game and not about potential rumors or the Spanish press. From day one, el míster made it very clear that we had to focus on the task at hand and we took that to heart.
The public and the coaches have increasingly said that Spain is at least one step above the rest.
Complacency is the first step to losing and to not achieving our goal. I don’t think that we’re above our rivals. In fact, we’ve reached the semi-finals with a chance of not qualifying for the Olympic Games. If we remain humble, continue to play the way we have been, we’ll have more options, without being the favorites or feeling ourselves superior. If we were to do the opposite, we’d be making a huge mistake.
Belarus is more of what you’ve been through in the group stages: a physical team that is very tactical. How do you play against a team like this?
We have played against a lot of physical, strong teams that are very tactical and are looking for you to make a mistake. They don’t offer much football, but if you fail to clear a ball, they will score against you and from there, you have to go on defense. We have played against the Czech Republic and Ukraine, both very similar. Let’s see if we can play just as well against Belarus, as we did against the Czech Republic and Ukraine.
Switzerland has stood out in this tournament, with three wins, nine goals scored and no goals scored against them. Could this be a different team in the final?
I’ve seen Switzerland a couple of times and I’ve liked what I’ve seen. They play football very well, especially #10 (Shaquiri), who seems to be very good. But, if we have to talk about Switzerland, we’ll do so later. Right now, let’s talk about Belarus.