'Van Gaal was a scary man' – Mata recalls being intimidated during first meeting with ex-Manchester United boss

The Spaniard has offered an insight into the Dutch manager’s process behind the scenes, describing him as a “great human being”

Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata has opened up on his first meeting with Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford, admitting that the coach initially came across as “scary” before they became acquainted.

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Mata completed a £37 million ($44m) move to Old Trafford from Chelsea in January 2014, becoming the second signing of David Moyes’ ill-fated reign at the club.

The Scot was relieved of his managerial duties three months later amid a run of disappointing results, and United turned to a seasoned tactician with an impressive CV built up during spells at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

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Van Gaal signed a three-year contract with the Red Devils, and immediately set about stamping his own mark on the squad, dipping into the transfer market while tinkering with different formations in pre-season.

Mata recalls being intimidated by the Dutchman 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.”

Mata is currently self-isolating at home along with the rest of his United team-mates amid the coronavirus pandemic which has called a halt to the 2019-20 campaign.

The 31-year-old put pen to paper on a new two-year contract at Old Trafford last summer, and has since played a key role in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad as the Red Devils fight for a return to the Champions League.

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