Sports FOOTBALL Mikel Arteta: "I'm not asking people to love me...

Mikel Arteta: “I’m not asking people to love me or love me”

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MIkel Arteta is extremely intense. This becomes pretty clear pretty quickly in the opening episodes of All or Nothing: Arsenal, an Amazon documentary about the 2021-22 club season. His command conversations are not for life, but for death: opponents are here to kill them, curses squealed. “Whatever happens, I don’t want one fucking player complaining, one fucking player leaving,” he demands from the Emirates Stadium dressing room at half-time before sending the team back to play Chelsea.

His drive never lets up as I sit across from him on a picnic bench outside Colney’s Arsenal London training center ahead of the documentary. “This is who I am,” Arteta says, answering my questions with ruthless efficiency and the unwavering gaze of a hawk examining its prey.

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“The passion I have for this game, for this club, is what drives these emotions and this level of participation, and this desire and thirst to be the best and constantly improve.”

Arteta, 40, is the protagonist of the latest Amazon reality documentary series. Others come and go in single-episode arcs, but his narrative is the clearest throughline: Can the league’s youngest manager take his youngest team from the bottom to incredible heights?

Answer: sort of.

After losing their first three games, Arsenal finished fifth in the Europa League, up from eighth in the previous two seasons, but they did so after losing team position to Tottenham for a much coveted fourth place in the Champions League. Most Arsenal fans (myself included) will agree that the season has been a steady progress on and off the pitch, if not a resounding triumph. As for the manager, he silenced many of his critics.

“I don’t ask people to love me or love me,” he says. “This is who I am. This is their choice. And my choice is always… to try to be myself and be a person with the values ​​that I grew up with.”

Self-perception doesn’t matter much. “Is not [concern me] but this applies to my loved ones and obviously everyone likes to please. But what I guarantee is that you will see who I am and not only me, who we are as a club, what is the most important, much more important than me, and this perception will hopefully be positive. It worries me much more than my own.”

At times, our conversation feels like an extension of the series: a club-run, carefully curated look behind the scenes. He is friendly and polite, but cautious. Shortly before the appointment, the time is significantly reduced; even my assurances that I am an Arsenal season ticket holder cannot convince him to stay and open. Perhaps it is out of shyness; possibly a general distrust of the media (he regularly highlights the media’s hostility towards him throughout the series).

Arteta’s anxiety is probably understandable given the amount of criticism he received last season. Arsenal’s shocking start is well documented: well-deserved defeats to Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City; zero points and zero goals; league bottom. The climax of discontent was the number of fans confrontation with the manager in his car after the Chelsea match.

Arteta takes on the pressure of managing Arsenal and is trying to get the club back in the Champions League. Photograph: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal/Getty Images

If Arteta has any lingering resentment towards those who so loudly attacked him, he doesn’t show it. “Well they express their feelings [when] we lose football games and we are here to win and we must never forget that. We may have the best of intentions, but you have to win football matches. And when you don’t work as a manager, you get fired. It’s just as simple and so clear.”

It’s an evasive answer, but at least it speaks more directly to fans like me who believed in him and in the club rebuilt during the season. “I am so grateful that now they are happy that we continue this path together, because without our supporters, what we are doing does not make any sense.

“One of our biggest responsibilities – and [it’s a] a beautiful thing is to make people happy and enjoy certain moments in their lives. And we are responsible for that, and it’s a lot of pressure, but at the same time it’s an incredible strength.”

After the first three defeats, Arteta chose his pre-match talk in the next game against Norwich to tell a story from his childhood. He was born with heart condition which stopped his heart from receiving the correct supply of pure blood. At the age of two, he underwent surgery, becoming one of the first in Spain to have such an operation. Doctors ruled out sports. But by the age of three, he fell in love with football; he still remembers his first black and white ball and his first football jersey (Barcelona).

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“I was much more aware [of the heart condition] when I developed and grew because there were some problems and there were some limitations, but I probably didn’t realize it [potential repercussions]. My parents were. They were really brave cause they push, push, push and [said]: “We will try to find the best doctor to give us advice.” They were very honest, but at the same time courageous, allowing me to do certain things.”

His mother was always worried about what he was playing. “My mom never wanted to watch me play, because deep down she always thought that when I push my heart to the limit, what will happen?”

And his dad? “My dad was a little stronger and I think he understood: “I’m not going to stop him, whether he is a professional football player or playing with amateurs. [No matter how] it’s competitive, he’ll play the same way.”

Arteta was, according to him, a very active child, he played a lot of tennis and also football. He tried his best to sit still. “It was difficult for me to seat myself at this table. But I was pretty responsible. So when I realized that I had to do something. I’ve always done that.”

Judging by Arteta’s reputation as a coach and player, it’s easy to imagine him as a hardened, highly disciplined kid. “My father was very, very disciplined with me in that sense. The threat was simple and very effective: if you don’t, you won’t play football. So I didn’t have a choice.”

Does he guide his father in managing his players? “The way you were raised and educated is a huge part of who you are as a person and also as a father to try and pass those values ​​on to your children. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

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In nearly three years as manager, Arteta has established himself as a staunch disciplinarian. “non-negotiable” respect, dedication, passion, diligent tactician and effective coach. Granit Xhaka calls him a freak (“but in a good way”), such is his attention to small details. He also seems to enjoy quirky team conversations.

Before the match against Leicester at King Power Stadium, the team stands in a circle rubbing their hands together, visualizing their success in the match, before grabbing each other’s hands and creating an energy bubble. It’s a lot less challenging than it sounds, and Arteta’s passionate delivery helps him avoid any comparisons to David Brent (and to be honest, the next 45 minutes were one of Arsenal’s best of the season).

Does he study management techniques in his spare time? “A lot. I like to read about other industries, a lot of sports. I have a lot of connections to other sports that are very rich in terms of how they run the culture, how they handle different situations, how they apply techniques in that style of play.” which they need.

“Most of my education doesn’t end there. Languages ​​– if I could learn German, I would do it tomorrow if I could. I think when I have time and when I’m in the car, I always spend my time doing things like that.”

Arteta dismisses the idea that he is a natural leader: “The role gives you the opportunity to become a leader, but the players decide who is the leader and they have to feel it.” goes to the team.

Mikel Arteta
Arteta has developed a reputation as a staunch disciplinarian at Arsenal. Photograph: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal/Getty Images

“We have the right people who are trying to convince them that they are at the best club in the world, trying to do the right thing, things that benefit them, that they will feel protected if they fail, and that they will trust us to do that. what we asked them to. You can’t do it yourself.”

As for the most difficult aspect of management: “Perhaps it’s the line between how personal and professional it gets, and when… you have to make a decision based on a professional.” He does not specify the details, but I’m not sure that he needs it.

He says that he lost sleep because of work, breaking into a rare smile, though he quickly adds that such insomnia is rare. “I think I sleep well. One thing that is really important to me is making sure that what happens tomorrow is under control. And what I have to do tomorrow is already on the way to completion. If I don’t have that, then it will be very, very difficult for me.”

For Arteta, one of the biggest problems at work is that he doesn’t bring his work home with him, exacerbated by the fact that three of his boys – aged 13, 10 and 7 – caught the football bug. “They love football and will naturally ask me what happened or why he didn’t play?” And ask for news about summer transfers? “Yeah, all summer,” he says, looking haggard.

Do they at least have a set of non-negotiable items like your players have? “They have, especially with their mom, because she spends long hours and [takes] responsibility with them. So it’s the mom that they really need to take care of… and I’m very lucky because they’re great kids.”

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Looking at Arteta in the documentary, it’s impossible not to be reminded of Arteta’s former boss Arsène Wenger and his own obsession with the game.

When Wenger published his memoir last November, he expressed regret for not taking care of his family the way he should have. Football has always come first. Is Arteta afraid of making the same mistake? “People talk about the balance between family and football or work, but at the moment there is no balance. What I’m getting better at is giving them more time when I’m there.

“I was conscious [the time commitments] first day. I don’t know if I was 100% aware that this was going to happen, but I made the decision and I am fully aware of it. I’m so happy to be where I am.”

All or Nothing: Arsenal hits Prime Video on Thursday, August 4th with new episodes released weekly.

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