Clinton Mata: "My career has been built on mental strength"

Clinton Mata: "My career has been built on mental strength"

Publish on 02/23 at 15:38 - G. Boxall


After joining Olympique Lyonnais last summer, Clinton Mata looks back over his journey. From his many clubs in the province of Liège to his status as a leading defender in Belgium, he speaks to Ligue 1 Uber Eats to tell his story.

This season we've discovered you in League 1 Uber Eats. Can you tell us about your career?

I started playing football at the age of five. My parents decided to enrol me in the club next door because I had too much energy and I moved around a lot. They wanted me to do something physical to keep me busy after school and at weekends. That's when it all started, but I just played to have fun with my mates. It wasn't like today when parents sign their children up because they expect something in return. Mine didn't expect anything in return! They just wanted me to have fun.

Didn't you dream of becoming a professional footballer?

A lot of little boys dream about it, but that wasn't my case. When I used to watch the Champions League with my father, I'd think to myself: "It would be wonderful to be able to play it! But I didn't know that one day I'd become a professional because it wasn't even one of my dreams. I was going to work as a bricklayer because I really like buildings: building houses, selling flats... So football came naturally over time.

At youth level, you often changed clubs. Was that a choice you made?

I was knocking on the doors of clubs all by myself! I started out at Battice FC and then went to Étoile Elsautoise, a club near my home as well, when I was 13. I spent two or three seasons there before moving on to Entente Rechaintoise. I always wanted to have fun with my mates and enjoy myself. I played for a few more seasons, and then I had a friend who played for RCS Visé. I asked him if he could put me forward for a trial and the club agreed. I was already 17 but they took me on and I stayed for two seasons. That's when I started to take football seriously.

Is it fair to say that were going on a lot of trials at the time?

Yes, as soon as a club was higher up, I tried my luck. I went from village club to village club, but I never managed to get into the region's top club, Standard Liege. Every time they called me to do tests, they ended up rejecting me... They said I wasn't good enough. But I had nothing to lose because I didn't expect to ever play in the first division.

But you ended up joining KAS Eupen in 2010. How did that come about?

KAS Eupen had just moved up to the first division and I went and knocked on the club's door myself (laughs). The club accepted me for one of its trial periods and then I stayed on. I started with the U19s for six months, then moved up to the reserves with Marc Segatto, and after six months I joined the professional squad, which had meanwhile dropped back down to the second division.

That was a new position for you, as you had been a midfielder since you started out...

Yes, the club made me a right-winger, but that wasn't really my style. They didn't really see my qualities. My first season at Eupen (2011/12) wasn't great, but then coach Tintín Márquez came along in the summer of 2012 and changed my career. He said to me: "I'm going to put you back at right-back". In my head, I was thinking, "What's he telling me? He's not taking me seriously". I was angry at the time, but then everything changed for me. From then on, I started getting lots of offers: La Gantoise, SV Zulte Waregem, RSC Charleroi... And I chose to join RSC Charleroi because it would give me time to grow without too much pressure.

How did you find the Jupiler Pro League?

The first year didn't go well because it was the first time, at the age of 19-20, that I found myself living on my own and an hour and a half away from my parents. What's more, I wasn't playing and I had no explanation. It was really difficult! I could also see that my parents were suffering because of my situation and I was even starting to wonder: "Do I have the level of the first division?" I wanted to go back to the 2nd division, but there are always two voices in your head: one telling you to take the easy way out and the other telling you not to give up. In the end, I stuck with it. I said to myself: One day you'll need me!

After spending your entire career in Belgium, did you feel it was the right time to leave last summer?

Yes, it was the right time to leave. I've always been an ambitious person and I didn't want to end my career with the regret of never having gone abroad. So, as soon as OL's offer arrived, I went straight to see the chairman. It was the first time I'd actually done that, because until then when the chairman turned down offers, I accepted them because I was happy at Brugge. I'd been champion for three seasons in a row, I'd won two Supercups, I'd been voted player of the year... But I felt it was time to discover something else.

What was your reaction when OL expressed an interest in you?

I couldn't believe it! I was very surprised that the club was interested in me, especially at my age. At 30, even if you're not old, in football you gradually start to become an old hand. I was really, really surprised, and above all flattered. It's a great club. Even if today's results are less satisfactory, it's a club with a history. When I was younger, watching the Champions League, OL used to terrorise everyone. Juninho, Fred, Malouda, Abidal, Essien, Coupet... That's why today I can understand the fans and their disappointment. They want their club back, the club that was crushing everyone else. We're aware of that. It's up to us to do our utmost and get the club back to where it was.

How would you sum up your career?

Nobody expected me to have a career like this. I'm a player who surprised everyone. I didn't go through a training centre, I was the kid who played for small clubs and saw his mates leave for first division clubs, so today there are a lot of people who are shocked. I think it's also an example for young people who think you can't succeed without going through a training centre. Admittedly, it's been a strange journey and I've had to take a lot of twists and turns, but I think it can inspire some young people. You must never give up!

Top videos