News
Manchester United

Man Utd star Mata surprises as he picks Koeman to manage 'Perfect XI' of former team-mates

15:23 SAST 2022/03/07
Juan Mata Manchester United 2021-22
The Spanish midfielder has pieced together a side made up of those he has worked with during a long and distinguished career

Juan Mata has rubbed shoulders with some superstar players and coaches down the years, but the Manchester United midfielder has turned heads by picking Ronald Koeman to manage a ‘Perfect XI’ of those he has previously worked alongside.

The 33-year-old midfielder is a World Cup winner with 41 caps for Spain to his name and stints at Valencia, Chelsea and Old Trafford on a glittering CV.

Down the years he has shared a dressing room for some distinguished bosses, including Jose Mourinho, Unai Emery and Louis van Gaal, but Mata considers a Dutch tactician to have done the most for him.

What has been said?

Explaining that decision when piecing together a team for FourFourTwo, Mata has said of giving Koeman – who last occupied a dugout at La Liga giants Barcelona - the nod: “This might surprise a few people, but I owe so much to him.

“When I was 19, I was having a difficult moment at Valencia and not playing very much. He saw me in training once, took me aside and said: ‘I think you can play, so keep doing what you’re doing. Play with confidence – I’ve got faith in you and want you to express yourself.’

“Koeman was the first manager to trust me in professional football, even though there were other more experienced players in my position, like Vicente.”

Which players made Mata’s team?

Mata unsurprisingly picked a couple of iconic strikers to lead the line for him, with Manchester United’s all-time leading goalscorer Wayne Rooney paired with Chelsea legend Didier Drogba and former Barcelona star David Villa in a fearsome front three.

He said of Rooney: Another of English football’s greats. He could do everything on the pitch – even play as a midfielder – so he has to be in this XI. He broke the goalscoring record for both United and England, and it was a privilege to play with him.”

Mata added on Ivorian frontman Drogba: “We’ve shared some fantastic memories together, especially that night in Munich when Didier scored the winning penalty in the 2012 Champions League Final. He could create goals for himself, taking the ball in the middle of the pitch and driving forward, and was so powerful in the air.”

Branislav Ivanovic, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Patrice Evra were selected across Mata’s back four, while Ryan Giggs, Frank Lampard and Ryan Giggs fill midfield berths.

He went with a close friend between the sticks, with David de Gea’s presence in goal justified by saying: David is a very good friend, and also the most talented goalkeeper that I’ve ever played with – his reactions are amazing. Every goalkeeping coach will tell you his natural ability is unbelievable.”

Further reading