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Five Aside

Mata inspired by Chelsea chapter

When Juan Mata was shown the door by Real Madrid back in 2007, he feared his shot at the big time was gone forever.

In an era when Real Madrid's focus was on the recruitment of superstars and a commercial obsession to dominate the replica shirt sales market, a promising youngster like Mata was never likely to break into a team filled with marquee names like Beckham, Raul and Robinho.

It counted for little that Mata sparkled in Real Madrid's second string team after he was snapped him up from Real Oviedo as a raw 15-year-old wannabe, as the celebrity culture at the club saw him boxed up and sent off to Valencia to reflect on what might have been.

Moving to the Mestalla Stadium was something of a step down for the teenager who had set his sights on glory at Spain's most celebrated club, yet the kid who went on to become a World Cup winner before sealing a £23.5 million move to Chelsea in August admits rejection fuelled his desire to succeed.

"Just to have tasted life at Real Madrid made me want to be part of the big stories in the game and the day they sold me was the start of my career," begins Mata, who quickly established himself as a rising superstar in Valencia's first team.

"It was amazing to be taken to Real Madrid and mix with the big names. The experience is something I will never forget. Leaving my family and moving into accommodation in a different city on my own was a challenge, but it was all part of my journey.

"I was not surprised when Real Madrid said they wanted to sell me to Valencia in 2007 as this is the way the club works. They sign world famous players and the young guys will always find it difficult to make the first team.

"So I said to myself, I had been lucky to be a part of Real Madrid for a short time and now I have to take that experience and prove my talent is good enough to take me to the sort of level Real Madrid operate at.

"Valencia had plenty of faith in me and it was my job to pay them back for their support and hopefully they can now say I did that. I arrived at the club for nothing and they received a good fee for me to join Chelsea. Also, I gave them some nice times while I was at the club so everyone was happy with the agreement.

"I thank everyone at Valencia for what they did in my career and for trusting me in their first team when I was just 19. They needed to get results and stay near the top of the Spanish league, but the club believed in me and we all succeeded together. I also owe appreciation to Real Madrid; first for allowing me to join their club and then for giving me the motivation to reach the very top. Now I have to try and reach the next level with Chelsea."

Real Madrid's payback for their investment in the youthful Mata came in the form of a €530,000 sell-on fee received as part of his big-money move to Stamford Bridge and now the 23-year-old creative master has his former employers and all of Europe in his sights as he targets instant glory with Chelsea.

After making his name as a dynamic winger, Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas has used Mata as a central attacking option in his 4-2-3-1 formation of late, with his success in freeing Fernando Torres from the shackles that have been attached to him for so long one of the more interesting developments of the season to date.

"I'm fortunate that my game means there are options for me to play in different positions," continues Mata. "You must understand what is demanded in each game you play, what the opposition would not like you to do and what is best for your team-mates. It's all about finding space and creating it for those around you. This is what the coach wants us to work on.

"Clearly I am still learning all the time as I have only been at Chelsea for a few weeks, but everything I see at this club is set up to succeed. The new manager won so many trophies at FC Porto last season and he expects more of the same and all the players in the dressing room have many, many medals to confirm they are top quality.

"When I sat down with the Chelsea coach for the first time, he told me he wants to get this team playing a more attacking style, maybe more exciting than they have been before. He sees me as an important part of this plan and this is one of the reasons why I accepted his offer to join this club.

"I experienced life at a big club when I was a part of Real Madrid and now I am back at a similar level where the expectation is to win trophies every season. It is a pressure I look forward to."

A long-time admirer of the Premier League, Mata admits his dreams of a move to England often ended with him pulling on a Manchester United or Arsenal shirt, though it seems he is revelling in his new surrounds at Chelsea. "English football is shown on TV in Spain and we all enjoy the pace of the game, the atmosphere from the fans and the excitement," adds Mata. "Manchester United and Arsenal were the teams I admired and I especially liked watching Ryan Giggs when I grew up. He was a left footed winger like me and I often tried to look at his movements and see if I could do something similar.

"Giggs did not play when United took on Valencia in the Champions League at the Mestalla last season and it was a shame because I wanted to swap my shirt with him. Maybe the opportunity can come again when Chelsea play United this season."

It is refreshing to note that there is still something of a starry-eyed quality surrounding the diminutive Mata and his humble nature should ensure he becomes a loyal student to youthful Chelsea boss Villas-Boas at a club that has been dominated for the last decade by high profile names used to getting their own way.

Villas-Boas needed one of his own signings to spark into life as he looks to establish his authority at Chelsea and in Juan Mata he may just have a match winner who will provide him with a passport to glory.


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