It has been a summer to celebrate for Juan Mata. From winning the Champions League, and then the European Championship, to becoming an Olympian, there has rarely been a moment to forget for last season’s Player of the Year.
Finally back at Cobham some six weeks after some of his Chelsea team-mates, it has been straight back to work for the Spaniard, with little time to readjust to his surroundings before Sunday’s Community Shield against Manchester City.
Finally afforded the chance to reflect, Mata admits is has been something of a whirlwind.
Most recently, at the London Olympics the 24-year-old was present for the opening ceremony in Stratford before going on a tour of the country that took in Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester. Sadly his experiences on the pitch did not live up to those on the track.
‘We were at the ceremony in the Olympic stadium and it was amazing,’ he smiles. ‘It’s an experience you can have maybe once in your life and it was a dream come true as a sportsman, sharing the ceremony with the best athletes from the top sports in the world.
‘We didn’t get to see much of the show because we were working from our accommodation to the stadium. It was about three hours of walking, standing and waiting, but it was worth it, it was just amazing to be there.
‘Talking about the experience is brilliant, but the results for our team were not good. It is difficult to think how because we had all of the ball in the first game, lost a goal, had a man sent off, it hurt to lose the game, and after that the second one was unbelievable.
‘We had 10 chances to score, hit the post three times, had a clear penalty turned down, couldn’t score and we were out, so we had nothing to do in the third one.’
It was an unusual end to a tournament for a player who has become used to winning, particularly for his country now that he has added a European Championship medal to his World Cup one.
Just like in South Africa in 2010, game time was hard to come by for the diminutive playmaker, who had to wait until the closing stages of the final in Ukraine before seeing any action. It did not prevent him rounding off a 4-0 trouncing of Italy, grabbing a late goal to bring the tournament to a satisfying end for a committed and proud squad member.
‘If you are there you’re a part of the best team in Spanish history, so I was so glad to be involved but of course I wanted to play,’ Mata says. ‘Everyone who was there wanted to play but we had a squad of 23 players and only 11 can play, or 14, and I trained hard to play but had to wait until the final. I was lucky to play and scored the goal too, and so it was an amazing thing to be a part of.
‘The final was the best performance for us in the tournament, we had a draw with Portugal and got through on penalties, against Croatia we suffered a little bit, so maybe the most important one was the best.’
Even that night on July 1 seems almost a distant memory, what with all the Olympic action, our own pre-season tour and the Community Shield. Yet you have to remember the last time before Sunday that Mata was seen in a blue shirt was back in May. In Munich. When Chelsea won the Champions League.
‘It was an explosion of feelings when Didier scored that penalty!’ Mata recalls. ‘The game was crazy. Bayern Munich scored on about 80 minutes and with the last corner, our only one, Didier scored. We had suffered a lot and were so tired at the end, but it was destiny. This team deserved the Champions League.
‘After my penalty was saved I still believed in Petr Cech. I had wanted to take one, I always like to take the responsibility on the pitch. I missed but after that Petr was like an angel and saved the important ones.
‘Looking back now to be champions of Europe… when Fernando and me went to the national team we were different people, we felt stronger and taller.
‘It was a dream for this club, and it came true. We are the squad who won the first Champions League in Chelsea’s history. We are all so glad to be part of it.’
But that was then, and this is now. In football nothing stands still and just as soon as a trophy is lifted, you are fighting for it once again, trying to hold on to it.
The new Barclays Premier League season begins again this weekend, and at the end of the month before our Uefa Super Cup tie with Atletico Madrid we will know our group stage opponents in the Champions League.
For a man who is yet to enjoy a break from football since last summer, it may seem a little daunting. Not so, says Mata.
‘No, I feel fit and good,’ he shrugs. ‘I am still young, and I am sure next summer I will enjoy some longer holidays. It is no problem for me.
‘It is not easy for me to remember what my home is like, but that’s what I wanted, to play as much as I can and to gain these experiences at the Euros and the Olympics.
‘So no, I didn’t have too many holidays, but I didn’t feel so tired towards the end of the season, which surprised me because it was my first year here, and it’s true that English football is harder than Spanish football, physically. We play an extra competition, the League Cup, and this year we have more competitions, six trophies now, but I still want to play as much as I can.’
If Mata can have anything like the impact he did last season, next year’s holidays will be very well earned.