Exploring Athletes’ Sports Journeys – Juan Mata

In this series, we are going to be looking at some of the top athletes in their sports and the journey they took to get there. The series will also consider their top achievements and success outside of their athletic journeys.  This article focuses on Juan Mata.


Juan Mata is a highly decorated footballer, who currently plays for Manchester United and the Spanish national team. During his outstanding career, he has been able to help his sides lift multiple trophies. Mata has won the Champions League, FA Cup, Europa League, European Championships, and the World Cup – quite the footballing resume. 

Mata’s footballing journey started in his birthplace of Burgos, Spain. He describes his earliest memories as being of him, his sister, and his father playing football and breaking things in their family home. This is where his dream of following in his father’s footsteps and playing professionally began. Mata praises his father for the guidance and advice he gave him, whilst not forcing him into football and allowing him to explore his own interests.  

The start of his career saw him sign for his local academy Real Oviedo. At the age of 15 however, Mata was signed by Real Madrid’s youth team and started a new chapter in his life by moving to Madrid, where he spent the next 3 years finishing his junior career. 

From there, Mata kicked off his senior career with real Madrid’s reserve side, Real Madrid Castilla. He played there for 1 season, finishing as the club’s 2nd top goal scorer, and then signed for Valencia. It was for Valencia that he was introduced to manager, Ronald Koeman. Mata describes this as being a huge part of his career. This was due to gaining a newfound self-confidence, stemming from the belief that Koeman had in him. This playing time at Valencia was also the time that he was able to break into the senior Spanish national team.  

Following his success in the Spanish leagues, Mata made the move to Premier League side, Chelsea. Mata was an integral part of the Chelsea squad and in his second and third season was voted player of the season. From his 82 games, he was able to give the club 18 goals. With the appointment of Jose Mourinho, Mata struggled to retain his first-team position. Due to this, in 2014, Matta accepted a transfer to Manchester United and has remained there till the present day, playing for the side over 180 times. 


Outside of his footballing success, Mata has also worked to make it in academia. The Spaniard has been able to gain two degrees from the University of Camilo Jose Cela in Madrid, in sport science and marketing. Perhaps most impressively, he acquired both degrees whilst still playing professional football. Aside from his talent, it is this type of work ethic that has contributed to his success. This is something aspiring footballers should look to emulate. Having multiple avenues to pursue in terms of work can be incredibly beneficial if a football career doesn’t work out.   

Charity work 

Juan has also made headlines for starting his charity, Common Goal. This came after he was one of the first footballing stars to contribute 1% of his wage to charity. Common goals aim to create social change and improve lives, through the power of football. The proceeds go to funding projects on all continents. The charity has seen growth as more and more sporting stars have signed up, and not just from the footballing world.   

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