A few days ago while I was reading Suddenly a Footballer, my wife saw it lying on the bed and asked me if Juan Mata had retired. It was a valid question because I also do not understand why footballers (and sports personalities in general) write their memoirs while their careers are still active. This is the same reason why I do not appreciate Fergie writing his autobiography while he was still very active at United and then he had to update it a few years later. End the career then reflect on the entire journey afterwards. No sporting figure is worth an updated edition of their biographies. That is unnecessarily egotist. You are not that important! This is the reason why I can barely hide my excitement as I anticipate Arsene Wenger’s autobiography that is coming out later this year.
With that little quibble out of the way, Suddenly a Footballer by Juan Mata is a very impressive introspection of a modern footballer who is not wrapped up in a bubble. Two things I am willing to predict about this book – one, it will not sell a lot of copies and two, everyone who reads it will be impressed by the introspective thoughts conveyed in it and the humanity inherent in the writing. The kind of football biographies that move numbers ae those of obnoxious characters, those who are head and shoulders above the rest of the elite group and those who have unresolved scandals fro the past that the reading public have been wishing to hear the juicer bits of. A good example is the one I read earlier this year. It ticked one or more of the boxes described above. Juan Mata is not one of those but his autobiography is incredibly well written and very thoughtful too.
A popular thread that reoccurs every few months in football chat rooms blogs is about how hard it is to dislike certain footballers even when hey play for your archrivals. They just attract affection across club loyalty. Juan Mata is one of those footballers (another one that comes to mind is Gianfranco Zola). In Suddenly a Footballer, it is easy to see that the affection is not misplaced. The author goes out of his way to not be the stereotypical modern footballer – obnoxious, egotistical, driven to the point of being always self-centred and a lack of introspection.
This book is not just an ode to all the individuals that have played a part in his footballing journey (his family features heavily there) but it also chronicles his views on the game itself; what has worked, what aspects he thinks needs improving and what part he himself is playing to improve not just the game but the larger society that football is a vital part of. In this book, you glimpse his very close relationship with Anders Herrera and David De Gea. He has no negative word against Mourinho despite how Mourinho shafted him at Chelsea and there is an anecdote he shares about the lifting of the 2016FA Cup trophy presentation that makes you spare some thought for Louis Van Gaal – the man was really treated shabbily by Ed and co. Mata comes across as a man who is always willing to be considerate of others even in the world of elite footballers that is incredibly cutthroat and self-centred. His is proof that a more humane way is possible in such an industry and he has not just the reputation not back it up but also the bank balance and intelligent thoughts too. A very good and easy read too.