In a footballing world full of suit jackets and ripped jeans, clichéd sound bite interviews about how ‘the lads done well’, shit nicknames and tweets about who in the squad has the best banter Juan Mata is a rare beacon of hope – smart in both senses of the word.
Rather than living in the white leather sofa and vulgar ‘OK!’ or ‘Hello’ spread commuter belt mansions of his peers, he lives in the middle of London in an apartment overlooking the Thames and has taken to exploring his adopted city with gusto and you’re more likely to find him admiring an exhibition in the Tate or mooching about Hoxton or Camden in a pair of Adidas Originals than falling out of China White in a garish garments, glamour model in tow.
Combining his career with studying for a second degree, he is as cerebral as he is talented on the pitch. In short he is the thinking man’s footballer, a Pat Nevin for the 21st Century.
And what a footballer he is, elegance and poise personified, the most beautiful to watch in the league in full flow with the ball at his feet. An equal eye for goal or defence splitting pass, the best to grace the Stamford Bridge pitch since Zola.
Chelsea fans have taken him to their heart since his arrival from Valencia two and a half years ago. As much for his celebrations after scoring the winner at White Hart Lane and the old photo of Stamford Bridge that adorns the wall of his Putney flat that shows he ‘gets it’ as the goals and trophies that led to Mata being awarded player of the year twice.
No man is bigger than the club, and the manager’s track record is unparalleled and unquestionable. Nor can you argue with the form of creative contemporaries, particularly Oscar and Hazard, but it is and has been an absolute joy to have him represent Chelsea and the club would be a poorer place, both on and off the pitch, if Mata were to be allowed to leave.