... unlike the people comparing him to Gianfranco Zola, by which I mean whichever journalist asked him the question that caused him to respond with this:
Zola is a legend and a historic player here. It’s an honour to be compared to him but I’ve got lots to do before I can get close to him.
-Juan Mata. Source: Telegraph.
Yep. Lots and lots and lots. Juan Mata is clearly an exquisite little player, with beautiful passing range, a bag of tricks, and an eye for the goal. He's one of Chelsea's very best players, and on a team as expensively built as this one is, that's a major compliment. But let's compare and contrast here. Zola could play a pass, dribble though everyone, score insane improvised goals and was a major threat from set pieces. Mata... can play a pass*.
*His one free kick hit the post, but I'm going to assume that if he isn't taking them he's not as good as, say, Frank Lampard or Didier Drogba.
Yeah, he's a great player and he's short, but unless he pulls a major bag of tricks out of his pocket, he's never going to come near what Zola could do for this team. And that's not a slight against Mata - Mother Teresa wasn't as holy as Jesus, but she was still pretty awesome. And, yes, I'm totally going to use this as an excuse to embed the Zola video now:
Anyway, back to Juan Mata. There was some other interesting quotes in there, the best of which was about how big and strong he is:
I’m big and strong! [The Premier League is] different football, much more physical, with a different rhythm to it, a different pace. In Spain there’s much more possession but playing a different kind of football helps me improve. It’s something I’ve got to get used to. Referees are different in Spain, here you play more often without fouls being given. But you have to just take it.
Mata hasn't gone through the same sort of adjustment period as, say, David Silva did, and his ability to deal with being beaten up by lumbering British defenders with neanderthal ancestry* has a lot to do with that. There's every reason to believe that Mata will continue to succeed in the Premier League, and he also comes off as likeable and intelligent. I guess he's a little like Zola after all.
*Ed note: The last refuge of the neanderthals in Europe appears to have been on the Iberian Peninsula. Writer note: Shut up, editor.