Daniel James talks Juan Mata and how Manchester United team-mate was his hero

Wales international also brands comparisons with compatriot Gareth Bale as "silly"

Juan Mata has made a big impression on Daniel James 1:16
Daniel James talks about his footballing heroes

Manchester United forward Daniel James has revealed team-mate Juan Mata was one of his footballing heroes growing up and says it has been a "surreal" experience playing alongside the Spaniard.

James had only spent one full season playing professional football in the Championship with Swansea before United signed him last summer, suddenly uniting him with one of the players he idolised most as a child.

Asked about his footballing heroes, James said: "Everyone looks up to Lionel Messi, but I think I've got to go for Juan Mata. He's someone that I've always looked up to.

"I think when I first met him it was just a bit...weird for me.

"Growing up as a kid looking up to someone and then you're playing with them and not just being great on the pitch, but off the pitch as well. He's someone that inspires me a lot."

James idolised Mata growing up as a child
Image: James idolised Mata growing up as a child

Away from football, Mata, the former Chelsea and Valencia midfielder, made quite the impression on James when their paths first crossed.

"When I first met him, he came and sat next to me in the changing room and said, 'I know it's a big move for you, if you need anything here is my number and if you ever need to talk about anything I'm here.' That was obviously great for me," said James.

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Pressed on what it was about Mata that caught his eye, James added: "Just what he did, he is so graceful on the pitch. I remember I got one of his shirts, his Europa League shirt when he won it for Chelsea.

"And he's just someone that I've always looked up to and to play in the same team as him is just surreal for me."

My biggest sacrifice?

"Moving away from my family," said James.

Daniel James celebrates after scoring for Manchester United against LASK
Image: James admits the schedule of a professional footballer can be gruelling

"I moved away to Swansea from Hull when I was 15. It was about four hours away - for some countries that's not a lot - but I wasn't able to see my family a lot.

"It is probably still the biggest sacrifice even now. Playing three games each week, you are away a lot. So, yeah, moving away from family and friends and being away all the time would have to be my biggest sacrifice.

"But it has also helped me, moving from Swansea to here, knowing that I've done that since I was young. It really helped me."

'Comparing me with Bale is silly'

James' rapid rise has also seen him become a fixture in the Wales side, alongside another one of his idols, Gareth Bale.

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Daniel James says he should not be compared to Gareth Bale, despite his strong start to both his club and international career

But despite the similarities between the two - they both have lightning pace and play in similar positions - James says he cannot be compared to Bale, a four-time Champions League winner.

"To play with him for Wales is obviously amazing," James told Sky Sports News. "He's such a great guy. He's great with the youngsters and around the place.

"What he's done in his career, how he went from a left-back to a left midfielder, to win the Champions League - it's just amazing what he's done.

"He's one of those players you look up to, but I think being compared to him is a bit silly."

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