Juan Mata on Winning it All With Spain & the Power of Quick Thinking

Oct 29, 2020, 9:30 AM GMT
Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata
Juan Mata was part of Spain's reign of dominance | Denis Doyle/Getty Images

If you ask anyone who has watched football recently to name the best international side of the past decade, there's a good chance most would say Spain.

While things haven't been great for La Roja in the last few tournaments, Spain set a new bar when it comes to international dominance in the first half of the 2010s, winning the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championships in dominant fashion.

Juan Mata was there for it all. In fact, not only was he there, but he made a real impact, netting a goal in the final of Euro 2012 to fire Spain to a 4-0 win over Italy.

Juan Mata
Mata celebrates scoring in the final of Euro 2012 | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

"Everything came so quick, to be honest," he recalls in an adidas & 90min podcast to celebrate the release of the new X Ghosted boot. "I played one season with Valencia, and then in my second season, when I was 19, I got my first call-up to the senior team in 2009, so straight after they won the European Championships.

"From then, I was very lucky because, as you know, in 2009 we played in the Confederations Cup, then the 2010 World Cup in South Africa which we won, then the 2012 European Championships which we won.

"I was in the right place at the right time because we won everything with the national team. In six amazing years, I was part of two of the victories."

Mata knows full-well that he wasn't the star of the show for either of those victories. Still a youngster, he had to take something of a back seat at his senior team-mates stole the show.

"To be honest, being part of just 23 players at the World Cup or the Euros, you're part of history, so I was lucky, but also I was proud belonging to that incredible team," he added. "I think it's the best team I have ever played with.

"I remember, in training sessions, the quality and the talent that we had in midfield. We used to do possession drills with one touch, and nobody lost the ball for five minutes. In the moment, you don't realise, but after you think 'this is incredible, the talent that Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Silva, Cazorla have'. Everyone was just incredible."

The thing which captivated audiences around the world wasn't Spain's ability with the ball at their feet, but rather what they could do with their brains.

Juan Mata
Mata takes pride in his quick-thinking | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

La Roja have long boasted some of football's premier creators. The likes of Xavi and Iniesta astounded onlookers for years with their ability to think two or three steps ahead of everyone else, and it's something which Spain still try to instil in their youth to this day.

Mata was raised in the mould of those very players, and he quickly grew to appreciate that he could make his mind his greatest weapon on the pitch.

"I think [I've always had that ability]," Mata says. "That's what my dad used to tell me. He used to tell me when I was a kid, everyone was running following the ball and I was thinking about going away from the ball sometimes to receive the ball with more space. But it was when I developed as a player that I realised 'okay, this is the way I play and this is the way I can affect the game'.

"Now, so many people think about physicality and speed, how quick a player is, but for me, the speed of thought is as important, if not more than actual physical speed, because what moves quickest on a football pitch is the ball. If you have the ability to think before you receive the ball, that's sometimes more effective than running with the ball.

"That has always been a foundation, a key part of my game. Without that, I wouldn't have been a football player."

The adidas X podcast is available on audio platforms to download and listen here:https://podfollow.com/adidas-x/view.