PST’s Exclusive interview with Juan Mata

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Watching Juan Mata tear it up for Chelsea on a weekly basis, I often find myself wondering if he’s as smart and gracious as he appears on the football pitch.

After speaking with the Spanish international following Chelsea’s 5-3 loss to Manchester City on Saturday, I’m happy to confirm that he’s every bit as intelligent, modest and kind as one could imagine. Over the course of five minutes I got to speak with Mata about the City match, winning in Europe and New York City.

Here’s what the midfield dynamo had to say.

On his free-kick goal against Manchester City

Down 4-2 in the 81st minute, Chelsea was awarded a free-kick in the center of the pitch, 21 yards out. Mata, Yossi Benayoun and Fernando Torres all lined up behind the ball. The whistle blew and before City keeper Richard Wright knew what happened, Mata’s shot crashed off the underside of the bar and into the net.

When asked whether he was always going top corner the Spaniard sheepishly admitted “Yes, I saw where they lined up and how far out it was so I just tried to pass the ball over the wall,” Mata said in perfect English. “It was a good goal for me.”

Thoughts on winning consecutive European titles

Since arriving at Stamford Bridge on a £23.5 million transfer from Valencia in 2011, Mata has won two consecutive European titles with the Blues. Both victories were special for Mata with the playmaker noting that “both championships meant a lot but winning the Champions League is the best feeling you can have as a player in Europe.”

The Spaniard was also quick to defend the prestige of the Europa League. “Winning two years in a row is not easy,” Mata said. “So winning the Europa League trophy this year after a hard moment during the year was a very, very good feeling.”

The difficulty of making it through Europe’s second tournament was another factor that wasn’t lost on the 25 year old. “The Europa League is a very hard tournament to win,” Mata explained. “You have to pass so many rounds to reach the final. I think in the following years that the winner is going to play in the Champions League, so it’s going to be better.”

On New York City and getting noticed by fans 

Mata and his teammates only had a single day to enjoy New York City before Saturday’s match but the midfielder had nothing but compliments for the Big Apple. “Yesterday we had some free-time but it was raining so it wasn’t the best day to walk around the city. But for me, New York, if not the best city, it’s one of the best for sure.”

When asked whether fans noticed him when he walked down the streets of New York, Mata smiled big, noting, “Haha, yes, people notice but it’s less than Europe. As a football player here in the U.S. you can live more relaxed.”

On Spain’s upcoming friendly against Ireland 

On June 11th Yankee Stadium will host yet another match that Juan Mata may (should) be involved in when Spain takes on Ireland in an international friendly.

When asked about how he felt about coming back to New York in two weeks, Mata was his typical modest self. “Well, I’m waiting for the list for Spain,” the Chelsea man said. “But if I’m in the team then we’re coming to Miami and New York so it’s going to be exciting.”

Tickets for the June 11th clash start at $65.00 and are available for purchase by clicking here.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

whufc.com
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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.