Just looking at Juan Mata gives the impression that you're looking into the eyes of the sweetest, most helpful librarian who just oh-by-the-way happens to be a phenomenal soccer player. His slight build, his boyish face paradoxically covered with a lumberjack's stubble, his impressive command of English, and the earnestness of his responses in interviews—his whole aura makes you think that, once finishes running circles around defenders and setting up a goal or three for his teammates, he pulls on a nice cardigan and reads Dr. Seuss books to children before a night out with wine, a poetry reading, then salsa dancing with a woman who has never been made to feel more special. Further evidence supporting this impression can be found on his wonderful blog, One Hour Behind.
Mata has been blogging weekly for a couple of years now, in both English and Spanish. On One Hour Behind, he mostly focuses on the goings-on of his club career, some of the other big stories in the Premier League, and also usually touches on whatever's happening in La Liga (the last part makes sense, seeing that the name of the blog is a reference to the one hour time difference between England and his native Spain). Following the more regular EPL and La Liga blurbs, he also regularly comments on other events from his breadth of sports fandom, which spans to basketball, tennis, handball, and even the NFL.
Today's post is a good example of what you get. Titled "An exciting month of April," Mata thanks the fans for his being named Man U's player of the month before expressing his disappointment at not being selected to play for Spain:
Many of you are asking me these days about the Spanish national team. As I always say, I have been very lucky to play and to win a World Cup and a Eurocup, to participate in the most important competitions, but I'm still excited as the first day. I am convinced that I'm in a perfect age in my football career and I look forward to keep contributing and achieving more success with my national team. That's what I work for every day, training and playing to the maximum, trying to do the best I can. After that, obviously, the manager is the one who picks the players for every game. So now I take these quiet days to keep working, as I said, but I also switch off and rest a bit.
In fact, I'm writing these lines from Asturias, my place to switch off from football. Coming back home is always special, I love to see my family and friends and recharge the batteries for the rest of the season. For those who have never been here, I highly recommend it. I know you will like it and you will thank me for that… ;)
He earned that player of the month award mainly on the strength of two recent matches against Liverpool and Tottenham, when he did things like this. Naturally, displays like that from the attacking midfielder in a season where he hasn't played as much as he'd probably like brought him much joy. From "Perfect evening in Old Trafford," after the Tottenham match:
From a personal point of view I have to say that I felt really good on the pitch and I enjoyed again from the beginning with my team-mates, trying to be helpful in all aspects of the game. I heard your applause and I want to thank you for that. Ever since my first day as a United player I felt the love from Old Trafford and I want you to know that it helps a lot when you play. Your applause when I was substituted and on my way to the dressing room is something I will never forget. Thank you so much to all of you…
And from "A double joy" after the Liverpool one:
This is one of those days when there is no need for words. As you know, it's been more than two years since I write this weekly blog and I enjoy it a lot, but sometimes I find it difficult to choose the right sentences to express how I feel. Well, this is one of those times.
But I can tell you that this Sunday has been one of the happiest days of my career. When you start playing football as a kid on muddy pitches, for something so simple and wonderful as having fun, you dream about becoming a footballer one day to be in a game like the one in Anfield. I mean one of those thrilling games between two great teams and with millions of people watching from so many countries.
Obviously I'm very happy for the team's effort and performance, for such an important victory and for my goals. It has been an unforgettable day for me. As I have said several times before, I am the same player I have always been, with the same passion, the same abilities and the same hunger to get better. Hard work brings a reward, and that has been the case this Sunday.
Aww, he's so damn lovable!
Not only is he super nice to the supporters, he's also super nice to his friends and teammates in the game, both past and present. You'll often find him spreading love for his fellow Red Devils or players he used to play with back in his Valencia days. He called his buddy Ander Herrera "a great footballer and a better friend" in the same post where he lauded the continued greatness of the ageless Athletic Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz: "Once again I have to praise Aduriz for his spectacular performance (and he is 34!)."
He also doesn't reserve his compliments for just players he knows personally. For instance, rather than focusing on the obvious heroes from the most recent Clásico, he made time to praise the losing team's best performer, noting of Karim Benzema that "there are not many players with such talent and plasticity."
His abiding love for all things soccer surpasses just what he sees on his television screen. Ahead of an F.A. Cup match against Preston North End, he shared some of his recent discoveries about his opponent and their history:
"I have been reading a bit about tonight's rival and I have seen that Preston North End was one of the founder members of the English League, and they even got to win it without a single defeat. We play at Deepdale Stadium, which is considered the world's oldest stadium in professional football. It is said to have hosted its first game in 1875… Definitely this is a team who also brings that historic touch that I like about English football. However, they are not living in the past: they are in a good position in the League 1 and I'm sure they want to add to his long history a great performance against Manchester United."
You'd think that with so much time devoted to playing, watching, and researching soccer that Mata wouldn't have much time for other sports, but then you remember that Juan Mata is a true aesthete dedicated to rooting out physical greatness in every endeavor. So obviously he's a big fan of other sports. Mata has revealed his love of basketball of both the Spanish...
On Sunday evening I watched almost at the same time Spanish basketball -the last minutes of the Copa del Rey final, congratulations to Real Madrid-, and la Liga's game between Elche and Real Madrid.
...and the American varieties:
When you read this, the All Star Game of the NBA will be already over. I watched the three-point contest, won by Curry, and the slam dunk contest, won by Lavine and his amazing dunks, and I'm really pleased that Pau and Marc Gasol have become the first brothers to ever start an All Star Game, which includes the jump ball between the two of them. My congratulations to this pair of phenomenal players!
Early this February, Mata took time to comment on some of his other sporting affinities:
There have been a few more sporting events to follow recently, like the Australian Open, where Nole Djokovic showed how good he is, although Andy Murray had his chances too. This is the fifth title in Australia for the Serbian, what else can I say. He is one of my favourite tennis players. I've been lucky to meet him personally several times, and by the way, he is a great football fan.
In handball, it's a pity that Spain couldn't get the bronze medal at the end, although the team did a great tournament. Congratulations to Poland, who beat Spain, and to France, the winners in Qatar. Also to Valero Rivera because, as he did in the previous World Championship, he has showed what a good coach he is.
Moving to a different sport, as I write this the Super Bowl is starting. I'm not an expert on American football, but I'm sure I'm going to learn a couple of things more tonight… The media coverage of the match is amazing!
But the best moments on the blog are those when Juanny Cash drops the sports and reveals those things that enrich his life besides games. Did you know he was an appreciator of fine art?
Before signing off I would like to recommend to those who come to Manchester a visit to the Whitworth Art Gallery. I went there a few days ago and I was really surprised by some of Cai Guo-Qiang's works and his drawing technique using gunpowder. Overall, this is a very interesting and well-designed museum.
Or that he's always on the lookout for new bands?
In this post I would like you to recommend some music bands, especially from the 60′s and 70′s. I'm sure you like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who… ;) Who else?
Or that he's a fan of listening to some tunes while settling down in front of the tube to watch the movie industry's biggest night?
By the way, as I write these lines I'm listening to Hozier's album -that I recommend- and watching a bit of the Oscars… What was your favourite movie?
Mata was already one of our favorite players because of how good he's been in a number of different circumstances, and how cool he's kept it while suffering through long stretches on the bench. Discovering his blog only solidifies our feelings. So Juan, if you ever find yourself in NYC and thinking about heading over to MoMA, wondering where the best spot to hear some live music is, hit us up. You'd be among kindred spirits.
Photo via Twitter