Juan Mata dedicated Manchester United’s hard-fought victory against Everton to Sir Bobby Charlton – a figure the Spaniard takes a lot of inspiration from, especially in times of adversity.
The 1966 World Cup winner is synonymous with the club’s style and success, having lived through triumph and tragedy during a 60-year period that has seen him go from ‘Busby Babe’ to board member.
United celebrated one of their favourite sons on Sunday, with heartfelt tributes reaching a crescendo when Old Trafford’s South Stand was renamed the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand just before kick-off against Everton.
It had looked like a frustrating United display may overshadow those tributes, only for Anthony Martial’s second-half strike to lift the mood and secure a 1-0 victory that keeps their Champions League chase on track.
“This Sunday’s game was special because of Sir Bobby Charlton,” midfielder Mata said.
“Ever since I arrived at this club I felt his support, and he gives you a calmness and positivity that are worthy of a great legend.
“He is a reference, someone who has proved with facts that you should never surrender; that, if you fight, you can get as far as you want no matter the obstacles that stand before you.
“In short, he represents all the values that define this club, and both in the past and the present he still is the ideal ambassador of what being a Red Devil means.
“One side of his Theatre of Dreams already bears his name, and reminds us players about his greatness when we step onto the pitch.
“Things like these make you realise, once again, how special this club is. Sir Bobby Charlton, no doubt, is a leading example to all of us.
“The game against Everton was neither easy nor spectacular, but I think we worked hard to win. Besides, we wanted to dedicate the three points to Sir Bobby, obviously!”
Mata was pleased by United’s second-half response to yet another frustrating goalless opening period at Old Trafford – the 10th in 15 Premier League games this term.
The Spain international was also pleased by the performance of the club’s young talents, highlighting Marcus Rashford, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Martial’s growing influence.
“In my opinion, after the break we played better and we reached the opponent’s box with more danger,” Mata wrote on Kicca.
“The goal came after a play I was lucky to be involved in, and with three young players taking an active part: Rashford, Fosu-Mensah and Martial.
“This is a good example of what we are trying to build: young guys with a bright present and a bright future ahead who are ready to compete at the highest level.
“The club’s academy is doing a very good job and it is bearing fruit.”
Mata on Tottenham clash
Things are looking promising in the long and short term, with Sunday’s slender victory moving United up to fifth and within a point of neighbours Manchester City in the final Champions League berth.
A top-four finish remains the aim for Louis van Gaal’s side, as does silverware, with an FA Cup quarter-final replay with West Ham on the horizon.
“These three points against such a good team as Everton make us face the last stint of the season with energy and optimism,” Mata said.
“Right now, we know that there are seven games remaining – apart from the FA Cup – and our only goal is to get as many points as possible. And then, the table will say where we stand.
“The next game against Tottenham is a big challenge and a great opportunity to show that we will certainly fight until the end in this month and a half.”