Juan Mata
Juan Mata training at Chelsea during his period of exileReuters

People may think that everything in Juan Mata's life has come easily, that such a talented young man's rise to stardom was pre-ordained. But the truth is different.

Even though he was marked down as a coruscating talent from childhood, Mata has faced a number of obstacles in his slog to the top. The exile he suffered under Jose Mourinho is nothing new, nor is the challenge of moving to a rival club in pursuit of first-team action.

Mata was born in Burgos in Castilla y Leon, where his father, a journeyman footballer, played for the local second-division club. The family soon moved to Salamanca, a bucolic university town (think Oxford, but with 25C heat) before settling in Asturias, the rugged mining region which also produced David Villa.

Mata enrolled in the Real Oviedo youth team at the age of 10 and soon earned acclaim for his languid skills and lethal left foot. At the age of 15 he moved to Real Madrid, wanting to emulate his idols Pablo Aimar, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho. But after four years at Los Blancos, which yielded precious few opportunities, he abandoned the glitz of Madrid for the likelihood of more playing time at Valencia.

But the quest for glory was just as tough at the Mestalla as it had been at the Bernabeu. When Mata arrived at Valencia, then-boss Quique Sanchez Flores preferred other players, leaving Mata to kick his heels on the sidelines - a similar situation to the one he was to endure in London.

Mata suffered a lot. His morale dipped. But crucially, he never complained. Aside from his remarkable talent, Mata is blessed with an equable temperament, rooted in humility and a willingness to fight if things don't go his way. It's hard to imagine any Zlatan-esque wobblers emanating from him.

Eventually Mata turned around his fortunes at Valencia, when Ronald Koeman replaced Sanchez Flores. The Dutchman gave Mata the opportunity to become a leader, and we all know the result.

Mata became one of the best players in Europe, he led Valencia to a Copa del Rey victory, won the World Cup with Spain and, finally, caught the eye of Chelsea.

When Mata chose to move to Chelsea, he wasn't thinking purely of himself; given Valencia's dire financial situation, he believed the move to London would present a good deal for everyone. And indeed it did: Mata took a big step in his career, Chelsea got a talented player and Valencia earned around £25m to keep the wolves from their door.

During his first two seasons in London all went right for Mata. He won the Champions League and the Europa League with Chelsea and the European Championship with Spain. Furthermore, he was named Chelsea's Player of the Season two years in a row. During this period, he graciously agreed to give up an hour of his time for an interview.

Face to face with Mata
In person, Mata is extremely likeable. He told me, quite earnestly, that he was living a dream, enjoying life more than ever both on the pitch and off, because he had fallen in love with London.

Alongside football he had taken up a degree in Marketing and Sports Science, and loved exploring the English capital in his free time, riding the tube like a tourist. Despite speculation that he had a girlfriend, Mata insisted he was single and claimed that the only loves in his life were his mum and his sister - though he did joke about his attraction to Ariadne Artiles and Elisabetta Canalis - George Clooney's one-time squeeze.

However, this idyllic life appears to have ended with Jose Mourinho's return to Stamford Bridge. Mata stopped playing, and began to remember the days of exile in Valencia. But once again, he preferred not to raise his voice. Not until the match at Southampton on New Year's Day, did he show his frustration, perhaps realising that his substitution by Mourinho marked the end of his time at Stamford Bridge.

Since the Southampton game Mata has warmed the bench for each of Chelsea's matches. It has long been clear that Mourinho doesn't want him; when United, who had approached him two months earlier, called to restate their interest, he gladly accepted.

Mata loved - loves - the charm of London. Moving to United was not his original intention, and the charms of Manchester are more subtle. But with the World Cup on the horizon, Mata has decided that moving to Old Trafford is the best for all three parties, just as it was when he left Valencia to join Chelsea. As ever, this gem of a player is thinking about the bigger picture.

Eduardo Fernandez-Abascal writes about football for the International Business Times UK and Spanish daily AS.