Juan Mata is far from your average footballer.
In an exclusive interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, Manchester United’s 30-year-old Spain midfielder spoke openly about many things.
He recited poetry, revealed his fascination with psychology and explained his passion for Common Goal – the charity he helped set up that calls on footballers to help “generate social change and improve lives”.
Guillem Balague, host of BBC Radio 5 Live’s Football Daily podcast on Thursdays, covering European football: We’ve spoken about this before, that footballers tend to live in a bubble. So where does your interest in others, in the wider world, come from? What took you out of the bubble?
Juan Mata: I don’t know and I don’t think I am really out of it (laughs). I have my moments – we all have our moments – when we can only focus on what we have to do in that sense. It’s an internal fight you have to have if you have hobbies or interests. You have to be very focused on your priorities and say no to other things.
Right now, I know the most important part of my life is being a professional footballer, and that has demands: taking care of yourself, training well, resting well, being ready for the games, being able to handle the expectations, and performance.
It’s true that football puts you in a very privileged place. I’ve said it’s a bubble – you can call it whatever you want, but it’s not real life.
If we speak about how football has changed me or what it has given me, there are probably many more things than three but there are three very important things especially.
The first is making my family happy. My granddad, my parents, my sister – everyone gets happy when I play a game and when I score. I feel happy for myself of course, but I feel more happy for them.
The second one is having a platform. If I wasn’t a footballer I wouldn’t be speaking to the BBC. It gives you a platform to speak and share your ideas with many millions of people.
And the third one is time. Football has given me time to decide my future and that is something not many people can do.
Economically football helps you a lot. When you finish if you have had a good career, you have time to decide what to do. That is the real privilege of football, because 99% of people don’t have that chance. They have to work because they have a family, they have to pay this – but if you already have that solved then you have the time to put your effort into whatever you like.
I don’t think we should forget that. I think we should all think about how privileged we are. We’re living the dream, not only while playing but probably for the rest of our lives. Let’s think about it and try to take advantage of all this.
GB:It was a logical step then for you to get involved with something that helps others…
JM: Common Goal gives you a different feeling of what being a football player is, a different perspective on the power of football in the world. Football can unite people like nothing else, and it comes with financial benefits, a very big economic force.
We created this movement and we are so happy with how it’s going. In less than two years more than 70 players have joined – many big companies, clubs, federations, all wanting to help others who don’t have the same conditions, to help them to own their future.
But more important than donating is the act of reflection on what every one of us could do to try to make the world a more balanced place. We created this movement, a proven example of how we can do it.
GB:Is the aim to get the whole of football to donate 1% eventually?
JM: That’s the dream: to get 1% of the whole of – let’s start with European football – donated to help social causes. And I think it’s possible because when you really want something, and you get the feeling many people share your idea, you can do it.
Hopefully in a few years we can say we have done that, but when people ask me what is the limit of Common Goal, I honestly don’t know because more powerful than a number or a figure is the idea.
If we can make people think about helping others and having empathy for others, that will be the best possible dream.
GB: You’ve identified before a kind of ‘negative influence’ social media has on football, in that it has made it more superficial. I’ve read you saying that kids sometimes are only interested in having a shirt, not in the actual football, and that it takes something away from the essence of the game.
JM: When I said that I was not generalising – because you can never generalise – but I get this feeling sometimes there is this materialistic way of showing things, a way that is forgetting the essence of football, the purer meaning of the sport.
When I was a kid we used to think about what happened on the pitch – the goals, the crosses, the control. I loved to speak about only what happened on the pitch. The world changes and of course you have to adapt – we communicate differently to how we did 25 years ago – but there is a little bit of a risk, I think.
Many kids now focus on the boots and the shirts and it’s normal, it’s understandable from the way everything is shown. But if you continue that path for many years I think football will lose its essence and that’s not good for anyone. Once that essence is lost, the shirts, the boots, everything will be meaningless. Football will not be football as we know it.
Speaking from inside the game, I think we should try to generate conversations about the football, not about the things that come from outside, like this tweet or this post. No, let’s speak about things that happened in the game that are beautiful to watch – like a control, a pass, a one against two. I love to speak about these things.
GB: What was the last move, or player, that you thought…
JM: The Real Madrid v Barcelona game. I was watching it while chatting with Ander (Herrera) and David (de Gea) on WhatsApp, which is what we normally do.
For example, Benzema. You can have people who like him or not but, from my point of view, the way he plays, the way he controls the ball and makes the right decisions, plays with his back to goal, he is elegant and smart and you can see he understands the game. I love that.
We spoke about how many good players there were in that game. Modric, Busquets, Jordi Alba, Pique, Ramos, Benzema, many others. They all played well and made the game a very high level game. I enjoyed that conversation and I enjoy now telling you this, because for me that is the beauty of football.
GB: Manchester United is the club you’ve been at the longest. Do you know Manchester well now?
JM: I know it well I think, even though the city has changed a lot in the five years since I came here. It’s growing in size, in opportunity, in things to do. I’ve lived here longer than in Valencia or London. I feel at home here.
It’s different to London, where I used to live in Battersea, in front of Stamford Bridge. It was close to the city and I used to go to town a lot. Here I live closer to the training ground. It is a more relaxed, chilled, countryside lifestyle – but I like it also. And when I need to, or I feel like it, I can go to the centre.
Manchester is a very nice city because there are a lot of creative people. I love creative people – musicians, actors, actresses, painters, writers. People who with only the power of their mind can do things that influence many others. I admire that. I admire people who can do things I cannot do. Here, they are everywhere in the town.
You will find a lot of people like that and it’s nice to learn from them. There is a good vibe and, of course, music is a big part of the city. It’s a fun place to live. You can see the love people have for Manchester and how proud they are of being Mancunians.
GB:But the city you identify with the most is…
JM: My first memories are of Oviedo in Asturias, the north of Spain. That’s where I was raised and where I feel most at home. Buena Vista is the neighbourhood where my dad used to live, where my grandmother still lives, and where I used to spend many times in my childhood.
It’s a nice neighbourhood where I had very good times, playing football with my friends in the streets. It didn’t matter that there was no real pitch, there was a road where nobody used to drive and we had four jumpers as goals. Now there is a park there with my name. My grandma is very proud of that.
GB:It sounds like a slow-paced life, and if you come from that kind of life, do you miss it now?
JM: I think we all miss the good old days, the daily routine we had with our friends – in school, after school, during the weekends. When I think about those moments I feel nostalgic and happy about all the memories that come to my mind.
It’s been more difficult in recent years but, especially when I was at Valencia, my friends and I always tried to go somewhere together in the summer. One year Cadiz, one year Greece – a group of six or seven friends who have known each other for 25 years. We are still in daily contact because they are really important people in my life.
GB: If you had to choose one favourite book, what would it be?
JM: The latest ones you’ve read tend to stick most in your memory. I liked Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.
It’s a book about our time and place on our planet; how humans conquered this world and why we act how we act. I like to try to understand human behaviour. I think it’s very useful.
It’s a very good book to understand the way we are – our fears, nature, instincts and our common sense. I’d definitely recommend it.
GB:What did you learn from it?
JM: There were six different kinds of humans in the world 100,000 years ago and now we are the only ones still here.
Why? The only reason is inside our heads: our ability to think ahead, to plan, to act in groups together, to be filled with conviction, to believe in something that in a sense might not be physical or real, but mythological or religious. Faith. I think football is one of these things nowadays.
For example, two Manchester United fans from different parts of the world can meet in Singapore and they will hug each other and celebrate together. They don’t know each other but they share a common love for something.
That is what makes the world like it is, what makes us humans social animals. Our ability to put ourselves in other situations – empathy. To speak and show your emotion. To try to solve problems by communicating.
It’s a very interesting matter to speak about. For me, it is the most powerful weapon we have, and the mental aspect of sport is something that interests me a lot.
GB: Before we leave books, I know you read poetry. So I’m going to test you with a passage I think you like…
JM: I’m not sure, it’s been a long time…
GB:There is a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out…
JM: That is Charles Bukowski, someone I really like. He wrote with no added words – only the words that are needed, that’s it. And he did it perfectly.
‘There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out, but I’m too clever. I only let him out at night sometimes, when everybody’s asleep.’
GB: Using no extra words – is that something you apply to your own writing in your blog?
JM: I find the blog challenging. Obviously after a defeat it’s difficult to write and you don’t feel very good. You know the fans are not very happy to read what you have to say. They want you to write after winning and not losing.
But it’s something I’ve been doing for many years, in the good and bad moments. I feel like it’s a responsibility to show your face, or show your words – your appreciation for the fans – even after a defeat. That is the reason why I haven’t stopped it.
GB:Do you want to one day write a novel?
JM: Maybe. Again I find it challenging because I think it’s very difficult for a writer to write something that many people like and enjoy, to make them feel something through their words.
To be able to do that you have to be sure of what you’re writing. I need to be sure of what I want to say, and to say it in a way that I want to. That takes time and that takes some doubts, and I doubt a lot.
It would be nice to express all that we have been speaking about in writing. Maybe I’ll put it there and whoever wants to read it reads it, and whoever doesn’t doesn’t. At least I will have told my side and my story.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
Get breaking news on your Mobile as-it-happens. SMS ‘NEWS’ to 20153
With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.