The Guardian footballer of the year 2017: Juan Mata

Manchester United midfielder’s Common Goal project, in which players and managers donate 1% of their salary to charity, makes him a worthy recipient.

The Guardian Footballer of the Year is an award given to a player who has done something truly remarkable, whether by overcoming adversity, helping others or setting a sporting example by acting with exceptional honesty. The inaugural winner was Fabio Pisacane in 2016.

“It’s a very simple idea,” Mata says with typical understatement as he describes the remarkable Common Goal initiative he helped to launch in August. “But some of the best ideas are simple ones and, when it comes to football, the power of the game is incredible. Anyone who understands football will know why we are so hopeful and ambitious with Common Goal.”

In less than five months Mata has been joined by 35 other football people from 17 countries in donating 1% of their salaries to Common Goal. All the money raised will be given to football charities where it is needed most – and the project now includes, beyond the players, its first manager, administrator and startup initiative.

The players, of course, are the real drivers of Common Goal and Mata has been joined by high-profile internationals such as Mats Hummels, Giorgio Chiellini, Shinji Kagawa and Kasper Schmeichel – as well as leading women footballers in Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe. Julian Nagelsmann, the 30-year-old who has forged a dynamic reputation at Hoffenheim, became the first head coach to join Common Goal in October while Aleksander Ceferin, the Uefa president, also pledged 1% of his salary to the cause.

“I have such strong memories from South Africa when we won the World Cup with Spain in 2010. We saw the passion for the game among kids there and it was the same when I went to Mumbai this year. Everywhere you go kids are playing football. Even if there is not much grass you have four sweaters which make the two goals. The kids just play.” Mata stresses his typical belief. “I am proud to accept this award on behalf of everyone at Common Goal. This was never going to be about me. It is about Common Goal – and all of us who share the belief that football can make the world a better place.”

Common Goal is the creation of streetfootballworld, an NGO which has developed a global network of more than 120 local charities that use football as a tool to tackle social issues, ranging from gender equality in India to peacebuilding in Colombia and refugee integration in Germany.

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