The Spaniard recalls being intimidated by Van Gaal after being called into his office for introductions, but says that first impressions quickly dissipated to reveal a “warm and genuine man”.
“I arrive in the room and it was him, Ryan Giggs and a bottle of Rioja, red wine, with three glasses,” the Spanish playmaker told United’s official podcast.
“He was like: ‘Do you want a drink?’ and I was: ‘No, no, I’m fine’. He had a drink and said: ‘Tell me who you are’. I mean my name is Juan, I am 26, I play football. ‘No, no. Tell me who you are as a man. Do you have family? What do you find important in life?
“From that moment, he can look scary face to face and sometimes goes close to you but, after that, he was a very warm and genuine man. He was more than a football manager with tactics, he is a great human being and I learned a lot from him.”
Mata added on how Van Gaal often became “emotional” when discussing his core values: “He was scary. I tell you. He was a very nice man; a very, very nice man; very genuine and very sensible. You wouldn’t expect that but he was very sensible.
“He could get emotional and was crying sometimes, when he was speaking about important matters. When he found the right values, the right football, he got emotional.”