Arteta Interview In The Times
Posted 23 Dec 2007 - 00:36
Christmas dinner is at Joe’s house. Mick is coming, Nando too. The pals will bring their families, reminisce about growing up together, chat about work. There will be plenty of toasts but hardly any alcohol. Mikel Arteta is playing for Everton, and Jose Reina and Fernando Torres for Liverpool on Boxing Day.
“I’ve known Reina and Fernando for 10 years,” says Arteta. “Normally Xabi would come but I think he might be doing something with his family.” Xabi as in Alonso? Arteta shrugs. The scenario, £50m worth of Premier League stars pulling Christmas crackers with one other, is a Hello! magazine fantasy, and the subplot, that the players are on different sides of one of football’s biggest rivalries, multiplies the intrigue, but Arteta sees nothing remarkable in it.
He was Reina’s roommate as a Barcelona youngster and played youth football with Torres for Spain. He and Alonso were neighbours as kids in San Sebastian and now the pair, plus Reina, live in the same apartment complex on Liverpool’s Albert Dock. “We’re all friends,” he says. “My girlfriend, my dad and my sister are also coming to our Christmas.” For the midfielder it is as humdrum as if we were really talking plain old Nando, Joe and Mick.
It was the right week to be in Arteta’s company. Manchester United’s Christmas party stank of football’s worst arrogances and excesses. Then at Everton there was a reminder that the game still accommodates normal men. Arteta, cheery and natural, would likely be the same if he had half the talent, a 50th of the money and none of the adulation and if his girlfriend, Lorena, worked on a checkout, rather than being a Hollywood-based television personality and former Miss Spain. Despite the orgiastic stories of recent days, Arteta feels most footballers, a quiet majority, are like him.
“I don’t really know a lot of the ‘stars’,” he says. “When I met [Cristiano] Ronaldo he seemed the same. Some of the other players think they’re better than the rest but often I find the bigger they are, the more normal they are. Sometimes you need to give the public an image but behind the image footballers are normal. They laugh, they cry. I don’t like it when supporters feel they have to go ‘please sign this, please’. I’m happy to do it without any fuss. It is part of my job. The gap between them and us is too big and we’re held up too high. I don’t think that’s right because we’re not on a pedestal.”
Arteta recalls getting to know Ronaldinho when they played together at Paris Saint-Germain. He, an 18-year-old loan signing, found himself roommate of the French club’s biggest star. “Ronaldinho’s a very normal person, a sensitive guy surrounded by some lovely people, because he has a great family.
“People see all the jewellery and what he can do on the pitch, but he’s ordinary. In our room he’d tell me things before every game to remember how lucky we were. He’d say to enjoy it all and I’d regret it if I let the pressure get to me. His attitude was, ‘This is my style and what makes me happy, if I go another way, I won’t be happy’. I think it was a very good concept.
“I can’t see how you could look back in 20 years’ time and think you didn’t enjoy being a footballer. But I also know how you play depends on your club. At Everton I may need to sacrifice in some areas because maybe we can’t play like Paris, or Barcelona.” PSG, during Arteta’s time, not only featured Ronaldinho but Jay Jay Okocha, Ali Benarbia, Laurent Robert and Nicolas Anelka. Three days after arriving from Spain, where he had been playing in the third division with Barcelona B, he made his début at the San Siro in the Champions League. His role was to sit in front of the defence as a nod to precaution while Ronaldinho and the other showmen went through their repertoire. Arteta was successful, PSG not.
He arrived at Everton, via Rangers and Real Sociedad, and the dynamics were the opposite. David Moyes’s first step was making Everton hard-working, hard to beat. The second stage was to start introducing delicacy to their play and Arteta, who arrived three years ago, with his passing range and deft set-pieces, was the first signing aimed at giving Everton dash. Slowly the mix has changed. Now, with Steven Pienaar, Tim Cahill and Leon Osman his colleagues in a side that has just gone 13 games unbeaten, Everton are rising on the back of one of the most attacking midfields in the country - albeit Moyes still demands sweat.
“We needed to change to move on,” Moyes says, “and I think we’ve now got to the stage where we go into games thinking we can win because we have football players, good technicians and also hard workers.” Arteta agrees. “We’re becoming more unpredictable and it’s more enjoyable to play in and for the fans to watch. We’re on an unbelievable run but we know our next game is hard.”
For Everton, none come harder than at Old Trafford. They have not won there since 1992, in the very first Premier League game played in the stadium, and subsequently have taken just 10 out of 90 points versus United.
It is a reminder how far they remain from the Big Four’s level, though Sir Alex Ferguson suggests the youth in Moyes’s squad and the fact its key players are tied down on long contracts puts Everton in a stronger position than other pretenders. Ferguson used Arteta, who is 25 and on a five-year deal, as an example.
“We won’t close the gap in one year. If they’re the top four it’s because they have been competing for trophies and in the Champions League every single year. Any team isn’t going to join them in one year but three or four years,” Arteta says. “We believe we can do it.
“The top four are accustomed to having the best players but now you see good players spread around the other teams, and that’s positive for us. United can do something special in just one second that wins them the game, one free kick, one burst of pace – last season we were winning 2-0, we switched off a little and they scored three goals in 18 minutes. We know how important it is to concentrate for 90 minutes and we respect them, but we have no fear of them.”
Last season Arteta finished ahead of Ronaldo in a poll to find the Premier League’s best midfielder. He is modest enough to look genuinely embarrassed when this is mentioned. “That was too much,” he says. “I don’t know who voted for me but in my opinion Ronaldo was the best player by a mile last year. I like everything about him.”
Counting Spanish, Basque and Catalan as separate tongues, Arteta speaks six languages and is getting to grips with Portuguese, a seventh. His English – spoken with overtones of Glaswegian and Scouse – is formidable. He chuckles about the cold weather and has got used to the festive programme in England. In Spain football takes a break over Christmas and the new year.
“It is different. It is something that people here like, they can go to the games with their families and friends and that’s nice.
“It will be strange on New Year’s Eve. In Spain we would be going out to see the fireworks. This year I’ll be in a hotel in Middlesbrough. I’m sure in 10 years I’ll look back and think, ‘That was an experience’,” he laughs.
What does this most naturalised foreigner make of Peter Crouch’s moan about overseas players being prone to diving? “There’ll be foreign players who dive, there’ll be English players,” he says. “Sometimes you can cheat, sometimes you can be honest. That’s why football’s nice.
“Sometimes you don’t know if the ball was across the line and if you take that out everything becomes . . .” (he makes a gesture to signify flatness).
“If I get a penalty and it’s good for my club, maybe I’ll do it. Even if I play a board game, if I cheat to win I know it’s not right yet sometimes I do. But I’m not saying it’s good to dive.
“Compared to Spain the referees here give you much less. I like the spirit of the game here. Against West Ham, I argued with Scott Parker over three tackles but afterwards we shook hands. It’s like rugby. Sometimes they smash each other and after they go for a drink.”
It’s typical for Arteta to be so open and realistic about a subject that from many other players evokes hypocrisy or denial. In this, as generally, he is refreshing.
The Spanish Posh and Becks?
Arteta began dating Lorena Bernal Pascual in 2005. Born in Argentina, Pascual is a model and a former winner of the Miss Spain competition. She has also launched an acting career, appearing in CSI Miami and the American comedy, Chuck, as well as working as a TV presenter in Spain. It has been claimed that she once said that ‘Mikel reminds me of a young Gary Lineker’, though she denies ever having made the comparison. Arteta is understandably wary of comparisons with David Beckham and his wife: ‘We do get followed by the paparazzi more back home, but we are not the Spanish Beckhams’
Posted 23 Dec 2007 - 01:15
Posted 23 Dec 2007 - 09:42
Posted 23 Dec 2007 - 10:11
Is he a marked man now? Must be.
Posted 23 Dec 2007 - 12:44
Whatever Mike, you just want people to know that you read the Sunday Times
newsnow , would never buy/read a Murdoch rag unless I found a link to a particular article elsewhere.
I resent the accusation .
Posted 23 Dec 2007 - 16:18
good interview, seems like a nice guy, and very sensible, his interests being learning languages you don't see him ever causing any trouble off the field!
Posted 25 Dec 2007 - 09:09
maybe arteta should convince xabi to come to Goodison and play for the real liverpool team ratehr than the fakes in red
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