Mikel Arteta celebrates his 38th birthday today. In these unprecedented times, it’s important to celebrate to good times. Arteta will be no stranger to that, having tested positive and since recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus which has succumbed the world to a global pandemic.
His positive test is just the first of many tough battles Mikel Arteta will have to face and overcome in these coming years.
The assistant is finally in the job of his dreams. The head coach of his beloved Arsenal. An offer too good to refuse, and the perfect step on this visionary’s quest for managerial greatness.
It hasn’t always been an easy ride in football for the boy from San Sebastian. Befriending fellow midfielder Xabi Alonso during his youth days at Antiguoko proved a small comfort, the two would relentlessly kick a ball along the beaches and gutters of the Basque City.
But at 15 years of age, a move to Barcelona’s La Masia set up transpired. Breaking into the first team, however, a bridge too far. A move to French club Paris-Saint Germain on loan was fruitful, and helped him transfer over to British shores; to Rangers.
Arteta and Alonso always dreamed of playing for Real Sociedad together. Instead, it was a one in, one out policy. When Alonso departed Spain for Liverpool, Arteta was on hand to be his direct replacement. This proved to be another career battle. Just three starts in the half-season back with his hometown club.
A move to Everton materialized. Followed by a move to north London side Arsenal.
On his departure from Goodison Park, Arteta said: "I am 29 years old, so I haven't got much time left to take a chance like this one. I have done my best for Everton."
With the Gunners, he won the FA Cup on two occasions. But you suspect it’s his upbringing in the Barcelona youth setup, a privilege Pep Guardiola also enjoyed, that prompted the Manchester City boss to bring Arteta to the Etihad Stadium as part of his coaching set-up.
Arteta was always widely tipped for big things in the field of coaching. A start student on his UEFA A Coaching course. Advocates of your ability don’t come any better than Arsene Wenger.
“Mikel has a huge influence even when he is not playing,” he told Arsenal’s official website. “He is super conscientious, and every morning two hours before training he prepares and that is absolutely right. Just through his behaviour, his focus on getting everything right in the team, he has a huge influence.”
It’s unclear just how much influence Arteta had when it came to transfers, but his move to the Etihad coincided with City’s pursuit and subsequent transfer of John Stones from Arteta’s former club Everton.
Arteta is clearly a student of the game and merged technique and tenacity as a player. Those traits were key to Guardiola as he acclimatised to, and eventually, dominated English football.
The experience proved a sharp learning curve for the boy from the Basque country, too. At City Arteta worked closely with the players, helping them understand key concepts they needed to improve their performance.
The players trusted Arteta, and so did the manager. During just his first season before a home match against Arsenal, Pep gave his apprentice the reins.
“You’re in charge for this game,” the coach told him. “You’re more than capable of taking the team through the game. So, it’s up to you. Do what you think is best.”
The result? A 2-1 win.
A few years later, following a period lavished in domestic trophies, his home away from home came calling.
Arsenal. An offer to good to refuse. He had to go. Back to the club where he spent the final five years of his playing career, including two as captain.