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Common Goal: Mata scores a winner in solidarity

Juan Mata, the Manchester United and Spain star, is not the first pro footballer to engage with charities. But he well might be the first one to find the way to give shape to this well known motto about solidarity in our time: “Think locally, act globally”. Back from a cup game against Southampton, just a few days after his grandfather’s passing, Mata felt overwhelmed with nostalgy: “We had won the match, but I felt a little … hollow. I didn’t have my grandfather to share the victory with. Since I started playing as a child, he had been my number one fan”. Out of that sad moment came reflection. And his inner dialogue moved him into action.

The outcome was first introduced last August through a post on The Players’ Tribune site: there, Mata announced he was setting up Common Goal. The post told what had gone through his mind that night back from Southampton: “I thought about everything football had given me. And I thought about what I wanted my legacy to be. I knew how lucky I was to have the opportunities I’d had — and that not everyone has a family like mine. And even though I’ve been engaged with charities before, I knew that I wanted to do something more. I want to make sure that other kids get the chances I had”.

As Mata himself put it, Common Goal is “a small gesture that if shared can change the world”. There was the idea of an individual triggering a whole new universal movement. Being football an universe of stars as it is, Mata was looking beyond individualism and putting all the stakes on team work: “One of the first lessons I learned in football is that it takes a team to accomplish your dreams. We live by this mantra on the pitch, yet we don’t see it enough in the social space”.

That was his goal: from the person to the collective: “Optmizing the invidual to optimize society”, as we say in De los Pies a la Cabeza. “I am leading this effort, but I don’t want to be alone”, was the way Mata summed it up, when he first set Common Goal. A name that plays on polisemy: a shared goal, the common good, a winner finish, inspired by one but assumed by all. And to be collectively celebrated.

The idea is simple, as Mata explained: “Starting today, I am pledging 1% of my salary to Common Goal, a collective fund — run by the award-winning NGO streetfootballworld — that supports football charities around the globe”. But that simplicity hid an invaluable power to impact. And Mata was aiming to that when he said: “I’m asking my fellow professionals to join me in forming a Common Goal Starting XI. Together we can create a movement based on shared values that can become integral to the whole football industry — forever”.

That global reach has been structured around streetfootballworld, an NGO that has created and developed a global network comprising more than 120 local charities, all using football as a vehicle to fight against social injustices and improving the lives of people who suffer from exclusion, or who are in any kind of danger or face inequality: may it be gender equality in India, or refugees integration in Germany, or peace initiatives in violent areas in Colombia.

Common Goal has given Mata a much deserved global admiration. And his work has inspired a growing number of pro footballers, both men and women, who are joining the ranks of this movement made “from all and for all”. Every one of those individuals are committed to drive forward this philosophy, a collaborative space that allows football to “give  back to society, in a sustainable way, and deliver long-term social impact on a global scale”.

It makes full sense, being football the most wide-reaching sport in the world; the one embraced by every social class and mostly by the lowest ones. It has been and still is a “popular” sport, in the widest meaning of this term. But Mata and his fellow associates at Common Goal are now set to bring down the walls which separate the big football industry from the masses who live it and sustain it with all their passion and dedication; the ones who build their dreams and aspirations around that massive entertainment machinery; and those who play it as a way to dribble away from reality through the mere enjoyment of kicking a ball, or even hold an unconfessed longing to become some day one of them, one of those world stars of football.

What Juan Mata has done through Common Goal is precisely changing the course of a river. And by the hand of the brilliant player from Asturias, the biggest stars of the game are approaching the social base of their businness. In that way they are making a huge contribution to the best possible football: the one who wins in the fields of equality, solidarity, and inclusion, against violence and prejudice. That football which scores goals for real progress and social development.

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