x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Arteta artistry a product of Barcelona schooling

Mikel Arteta, Arsenal's deadline day signing from Everton says he often wonders what would have happened if he'd stayed at Barca another year.

Mikel Arteta spent seven seasons with Everton before joining Arsenal in August.
Mikel Arteta spent seven seasons with Everton before joining Arsenal in August.

Mikel Arteta learnt his football in Barcelona's youth ranks, and he once mused: "I often wonder what would have happened if I'd stayed at Barca another year."

The Basque midfielder, who currently lines up for Arsenal, added: "It was my dream to play for Barca and I loved it there. I was good enough to make the first team, but Xavi was two years ahead of me in the same position, and there was my hero Josep Guardiola, too, my childhood hero. It broke my heart to leave, but I wanted first-team football."

In 2000, at age 18, Arteta was loaned to Paris Saint-Germain, where he played Champions League football with Ronaldinho, Jay-Jay Okocha, Gabriel Heinze and Nicolas Anelka.

"They were young but established players," he said. "And I learnt a lot from how they carried themselves and made me feel welcome. I try to treat young, new players the same."

A £6.5 million (Dh37.2m) fee took him in 2002 to Glasgow Rangers, where he played 50 times over two seasons, scoring 12 goals. "Rangers was great in my first year, but then I became disappointed after so many good players left," Arteta said. A move to his hometown club Real Sociedad, in 2004, did not work out. Arteta's view of events: "The coach didn't like me because he was at Sociedad when I left them for Barca as a youngster."

Then followed a loan move to Everton in January 2005, which became permanent the following July when he signed a five-year contract.

"David Moyes has had a big influence on my career," Arteta said of the Everton coach. "He trusted me at a low point and that meant a lot. As a manager, he gains respect by being honest and making difficult decisions. He consistently improved Everton, bringing in better players."

Arteta loved life in Liverpool. He spoke of rival Liverpool fans coming up to him in the street and telling him that he played for the wrong team. Having Pepe Reina and Xabi Alonso, two long-time friends, as neighbours in Liverpool's Albert Dock helped him feel settled, as did his wife, Lorena Bernal, the former Miss Spain.

During his time with Everton, he won their Player of the Year award three times.

"Post Wayne Rooney, Evertonians became a bit wary of attaching too much affection to one player, but you just couldn't help but fall in love with Arteta," wrote Mark O'Brien in the fanzine When Skies Are Grey.

"He always had ability but often seemed to get bogged down when trying to battle in the centre of the park with the nine-foot monsters of the Premier League. Once David Moyes started playing him out wide, though, he really came into his own. And then, in terms of pure ability and mastery of the ball, he was up there with the very best the club have ever had; he really was that skilful."

Injury would afflict the latter part of his seven seasons at Everton before he joined Arsenal for £10m on transfer-deadline day in August. He was brought as a replacement for Cesc Fabregas.

Arteta's situation with the Spanish national side has not changed - though he was called up to one squad in 2009. He stood loyal to Everton but his desire to play Champions League football with Arsenal was understandable.


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