Mata: Following in footsteps of Man Utd legends Beckham, Cantona, Giggs & Scholes is 'surreal'
Juan Mata has admitted that playing for a club with the history of Manchester United still feels surreal, despite the Spaniard being in his seventh season at the club.
After spending time in Real Madrid’s youth system before spells with Valencia and Chelsea, the 31-year-old says the sheer size of United still sometimes surprises him.
Ahead of United’s home fixture with Crystal Palace this weekend, Mata is hoping to keep following in the footsteps of United’s many former greats.
“When I was a kid in Spain I only ever wanted to be a professional football player,” he told the Telegraph .
“My dad was but he didn’t play in the first division and my only aim was to do that, to make my family proud. And then that came and many things after that and now I am at a club where David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Eric Cantona used to play and sometimes it feels surreal.”
Since joining from Chelsea in 2014, Mata has established himself as one of the most popular figures at Old Trafford, but he admits things have rarely been easy.
His time at United has not been completely fallow – he has won the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League – but has been unable to arrest the club’s decline over the last few years.
“We know that fans of this club have been used to winning and when you are in a period of change – Sir Alex leaving and different managers – and trying to win this Premier League title again which we haven’t won for six years then of course there is pressure from the fans, from the media and everywhere,” Mata said.
“But there is only one way you can deal with it and that is to face it and manage and cope with the pressure and I think you do that on a daily basis. If you do your routine right, if you train right, if you demand from each other then it will pay off and you will be able to handle it better. Also you need to realise who you are playing for.
“You journalists speak more about United than other clubs, right? That’s something I realised from the first moment. If you see pundits on TV – a lot of ex-Man Utd players.
“If you see the newspapers there is always something on Man Utd. Even if it is a small story it is bigger because it’s Manchester United.
“The level of repercussion is crazy which makes you think even more on how united we have to be with the fans, club, players because you have that sense that everyone who does not support United is happy when United loses. That’s a fact.”