Juan Mata used to get advice from Raúl González as a youth player at Real Madrid CF but is looking to get the better of his former role model as Valencia CF visit FC Schalke 04.
They say you should never meet your heroes but it was not a problem for Juan Mata when, as a teenage hopeful in the Real Madrid CF academy, he first came across the Merengues' then star striker Raúl González.
"I had the chance to talk to him years ago when I was playing for the youth team at Madrid," recalled the winger, who joined Valencia CF from Real Madrid Castilla, the capital club's B team, in 2007. "He always looked after the new players in the youth teams and gave us pieces of advice. I think he is a great example for all footballers."
If Raúl was the perfect role model for "all young Spanish players", as Mata suggests, the 22-year-old's goal now is to beat his hero when Valencia visit FC Schalke 04 in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 on Wednesday. It is because of Raúl that Valencia have their work cut out in Gelsenkirchen, the Spaniard's second-half strike having earned Schalke a 1-1 first-leg draw at Mestalla, yet Mata remains optimistic.
"We took the lead in the first leg as we'd wanted but we didn't manage to add to it and in the Champions League you know that teams are at a high level and can score at any time, especially with a player like Raúl as Schalke have. He's the all-time top scorer in the Champions League and a very intelligent player," said Mata, who has been capped ten times by Spain.
"So with him scoring, that really hurt us, because an away goal always counts for very much, but I believe our team can score in Germany and even win the match and progress to the next round," added Mata, whose confidence is borne out by Valencia's unbeaten away record in the group stage. The less encouraging statistic of one victory from ten previous trips to Germany, meanwhile, is offset by the fact that solitary success came at Schalke in the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League group stage.
Nor does Mata dwell on the four players – injured goalkeeper Miguel Ángel Moyà, midfielder David Albelda and forward Aritz Aduriz, plus full-back Miguel who has been suspended for disciplinary reasons – who will not travel to Germany, saying there may be "a bit of uncertainty among the fans" but Unai Emery's squad are "still on track" to achieve their aims for 2010/11.
"I think we will be third in the league. I believe in the team, that we can hold on to that position," he explained. "It will be very important to turn Mestalla into a difficult place for teams to pick up points. In the Champions League I believe we can make it to the next round, and then in the quarters you can draw any of the top teams."
So the main objective is to secure UEFA Champions League football for next season. Yet how about their prospects for the current competition? "[To go] as far as we can," said Mata. "The fans deserve more Champions League nights at home." Even if that means using Raúl's advice against him.