What Football Can Be

Juan Mata reflects on Common Goal's Five-Year Anniversary

It feels like yesterday.  

I’m walking down the narrow streets of Mumbai’s slums, guided by Ashok.  

Everyone knows him. Everyone knows what he’s doing for the hundreds of young people in the community who are part of the big OSCAR Foundation family. 

And, even though it is a completely new place for me, I feel connected. Football has a way of doing that. 

I see the game on the bustling streets. I see its role in the community. I see the passion in their eyes, a passion we share. 

But five years ago, I could have never imagined what would follow. 

That trip to India taught me a lot. It enabled me to look at things from a different perspective. 

Even before the trip, I knew that who I was as a player - and as a human being - was more than my role on the pitch. My role off the pitch has always been a part of my purpose. As players, we are in a privileged position that often keeps us away from engaging with the world outside our bubble. 

But that moment meant something else. It meant that I could find the answers to all those questions in football. It meant that I didn’t need to go far away from my career and my passion to find who I was meant to be and what I was meant to do off the pitch, the answers were there, in football.

Juan Mata with Common Goal Co-founder Jürgen Griesbeck on trip to OSCAR Foundation in 2017

Football is an incredible driver for social change. Over the past five years, I have learnt from a number of individuals and organisations what the sentence, “football can change the world” really means. I have seen it in Mumbai, but also in Colombia, Manchester, London, and many other places where football has played an incredible role in creating safer, more equal, and more sustainable communities, for all.  

And, in parallel, a new era of activism in football was born.  

Questions around the game itself have been raised. How can it be more inclusive, more equitable, more sustainable, in essence better? For football to play a true contribution, for it to maximise its potential, it must lead by example and mirror the society we all want to live in.  

So, if this is the case, how do we move forward? 

Well, we now have the biggest team ever created in football — The. Biggest. Ever. 

It includes hundreds of fellow players and managers, clubs, grassroots organisations, brands, young community leaders, artists, supporters, fans… Over 500 stakeholders and individuals own the Common Goal movement and a shared vision for football. A team that didn’t even exist five years ago. 

With that ever-growing team, we have a great opportunity to continue building on what is at the core of our beloved sport, its essence, its purpose.   

What football can be.