Manchester United's Juan Mata: 'Luck, it's key for every footballer's career'

Even without a Premier League winners' medal, there are few who can match Juan Mata's trophy haul.

The Manchester United midfielder has won the Champions League with Chelsea, the Europa League with United, as well as the World Cup and European Championship with Spain.

There were, though, moments in his early career when his future in football looked like might pan out differently. He left home at 15 to join Real Madrid's academy. At 19, he left the Bernabeu to start again at Valencia.

"To be honest, I was never expecting to be in a World Cup final, a Euro final, a Champions League final, a Europa League final," the 29-year-old told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview. "I've done much more than I dreamt and that's incredible. When I signed for Valencia, it wasn't the best moment of my football career because in the beginning I was not playing a lot.

"But I remained calm and I knew that if I trained well and played as I know, I'm sure I can get a place in the first XI," he continues. "My family was suffering for me because I was a kid, I was 19 years old, just left Real Madrid, and there were hesitating about whether it was the right decision or not.

"At that moment I was calmer than them, believing that I could do it. There are some examples in my career when my family was more concerned than me. So every time I win or I score, I always think about them."

His father, Juan Sr., who also played professionally, thinks he should score more often.

"He tells me to shoot more," Mata said, with a laugh. "He was good player, a left winger. Very quick. He says he was better than me. He was good. His friends, when he's around, say he was better but when he's not around they tell me I'm much better than him, so I don't know."

Mata credits his upbringing in northern Spain for leading him towards projects like Common Goal and his pledge to donate one percent of his salary to charity.

He also played his part in saving his first club, Real Oviedo, from going out of business in 2012 by buying shares. Mata says it is about trying to make the most out of the "luck" he has been afforded.

"Luck, it's key for every footballer's career," he said. "I have been incredibly lucky during my career and in my life."

Mata left Chelsea for Manchester United in January 2014 for what at the time was a club-record transfer fee, and he was reunited with former Stamford Bridge boss Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford in the summer of 2016.

It can feel, on the outside, like the Manchester United manager wants to create a feeling of "us against the world" in the dressing room with his approach to news conferences and media appearances.

Mata, though, insists it is a way of shielding the players so they can concentrate on one thing: winning. It is that, according to Mata, which drives the 54-year-old. And he says, for Mourinho, press conferences before and after games are an extension of what happens on the pitch.

"He tries to protect the group and keep us together," Mata says. "He tries to defend Manchester United as much as he can. As a player, we get the feeling that he goes to the press conference to protect the club, the team and the players if needed. As a player, all you can do is train well and I prefer to talk on the pitch. He has to do it because every manager has speak before the games. He is experienced in that."

Mourinho's appointment in June 2016 sparked speculation Mata could move on after he sold the midfielder to United during his second spell at Chelsea.

Nearly 18 months on and Mata is still at the club. And, with United sitting second in the Premier League table, he has a chance to lift the one piece of silverware that has evaded him.

"I would love to win the Premier League," he says. "I have been here for seven years and never won it. But I cannot complain. I have been in finals, I have won trophies and I am more than happy with that.

"If I have to pick one, yeah, the Premier League is the one that I don't have," he continues. "Since I came to England we won the FA Cup, League Cup, Community Shield so the only one is the Premier League. Hopefully we can do it this year. It would be amazing for the club and for myself personally and we will try our best to do it."