In fact, so close are the pair that if Smalling had the chance to sit down for a meal with anyone in the world, he would choose the Spaniard.
Asked the question by Guillem Balague on BBC 5 live, Smalling replied: “I might even stay close to home and say Juan.
“Obviously I see him every day and we speak quite a lot, we’re quite close.
“But it would just be nice to sit down, put football aside for one minute and just have an evening where you’re getting to know each other a lot more, on a deeper level.
Juan’s someone that’s always interested me – even before I started playing wit him, as well
“See his desires and all the good work he’s doing and where that’s come from.
“Juan’s someone that’s always interested me. Even before I started playing wit him, as well.”
Mata was the club’s record signing in January 2014 when he arrived from Chelsea, where he had been frozen out by Jose Mourinho for £37.1million.
In the water-treading period that was David Moyes’ season in charge, Mata was heralded as a potential saviour but did not have the desired impact.
He has mostly been played out of position on the right wing despite claiming two Player of the Year Awards at Chelsea as a No 10, leading to an underwhelming record of 44 goals and 37 assists in 216 appearances.
His £140,000-a-week contract expires on June 30 and it was reported that the player was bargaining for a wage hike because of the measuring stick that is Alexis Sanchez’s pay package.
There was ostensible progress in negotiations when Mata’s father spoke to Cadena SER, amid claims that Mata has begun spoken with Barcelona about a move.
“Manchester United have offered to renew us, we are very happy,” Juan Snr said.
“But there are proposals from Champions League teams. Spain, maybe, but today is not the day to talk, it is not yet decided.”
As for transfers to other English clubs, his father said: “City? It would not be the ideal option. There are two options that do not [appeal]: Liverpool and City.
“We have to respect the Manchester United fans, he is held very dear here.”
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