By the time of his 22nd birthday, Mikel Arteta had played for four clubs in three different countries. He had graduated from Barcelona’s legendary Mestalla academy and lined up alongside some of the greatest players – Xavi Hernandez, Ronaldinho, Carlos Puyol – of his era. But he had still not found a place he could call home.
While he languished in an unhappy spell with Real Sociedad in his native Basque region, little could the former Barcelona, Glasgow Rangers and Paris Saint-Germain player have imagined that that place would be Goodison Park. But when David Moyes made an unexpected deadline-day loan move for the midfielder in January 2005, the Spaniard unexpectedly found a place where he belonged.
Arteta’s arrival was initially a short-term attempt to bolster Everton’s 2004/05 push for Champions League qualification and followed Thomas Gravesen’s surprise move to Real Madrid. Skilful, creative, technically outstanding and double-footed, Arteta started out on the flank and added impetus to the closing stages of Everton’s most successful league campaign in a generation. With his dashing dark good looks and the manner in which he beckoned opponents before whirling past them in the blink of an eye, it was as if watching a great matador mocking a bull before plunging in for the kill. He made just ten league starts in the remainder of the campaign, but his influence was keenly felt – never more so than when he delivered a pitch-perfect free kick onto the head of Duncan Ferguson, whose goal brought a famous win against Manchester United and effectively secured Champions League qualification.
When first bringing him to Goodison, Moyes had wisely agreed a £2.8million fixed fee with Real Sociedad to make the loan permanent. It was one of the wisest bits of business conducted in Everton’s modern history and an option he took up that summer after protracted negotiations over personal terms. The welcome he had received at Goodison helped make up the Spaniard’s mind. ‘I was very surprised by the club, the people and the fans when I came here,’ Arteta said after signing a five-year contract. ‘What we did last season was so very important for everybody. I was so happy and felt so close to the club.
I was very surprised that the fans were trying to make me feel an Everton player and an important player very quickly. I much appreciated that from the first minute.
EVERTON held high hopes for the 2005/06 season, but these were quickly dashed as the club lost ten of their first twelve games and were dumped out in the Champions League qualifying round. It became evident that the rebuilding plans put in place by Moyes needed to go further.
In the two years after Arteta’s permanent arrival the manager made several key signings, including Joleon Lescott, Steven Pienaar and Yakubu Aiyegbeni, which added pace and guile and provided the Spaniard with team-mates that performed at a similar level.
The Everton midfield purred with energy and at times looked as if it might well propel the team on to great things. In the 2007/08 season many tipped Everton for UEFA Cup glory after they strolled through the group stage. In the last sixteen of the competition, Everton came up against Fiorentina boasting the best group record in the competition. But despite coming into the first leg in Florence on the back of five straight wins, they put in an anaemic performance and lost 0-2.
AT GOODISON – which was a veritable cauldren of noise – one week later Everton were as good as they had been bad in Italy, inspired by the talismanic Arteta. Andy Johnson put Everton in front early on and Arteta’s long-range drive brought the house down on 67 minutes. Everton laid siege to the Italian goal but could not find a way through and somehow the game went to penalties, which Fiorentina won 4-2. The result stunted Everton’s momentum and a second Champions League spot slipped from their grasp, although they still finished fifth.
Arteta had by now dropped into the heart of the team and had taken the number 10 shirt – the playmaker’s number in the continental football culture in which he was so versed. When he hummed Everton ticked; he oozed class and composure and was an important contributor of goals in a team that usually won by tight margins. He was Everton’s designated penalty taker and scored from free kicks in a manner that was occasionally reminiscent of his great predecessor, Kevin Sheedy.
Disaster struck Arteta in the final part of the 2008/09 season when he snapped a cruciate ligament in a sterile away match at Newcastle. The injury kept him out for ten months and with it he lost the chance to play in the 2009 FA Cup semi-final and his best chance of silverware. High hopes rested on his return but with the insidious petro-billions of Manchester City’s owners being wafted around many feared he would follow Joleon Lescott down the M62. But in August 2010 Arteta signed a new five-year contract that, with reputed wages of £75,000 per week, made him the highest- paid player in the club’s history. ‘Mikel Arteta is one of the finest players ever to wear an Everton shirt and over the past few weeks his pride in wearing that shirt has helped our conversations hugely,’ said Bill Kenwright on concluding the deal.
Alongside several others in the squad, we are both passionate Evertonians.
Arteta continued to be one of Everton’s most influential players throughout the 2010/11 season, although some of his magic had faded with the injury. In particular, he was less potent from set-pieces, which seemed to bounce off their opponents with alarming regularity. But perhaps expectations were just higher than ever following his new contract.
Everton under Kenwright had, alas, become a club where to sell was to survive and losing the best players carried a sense of looming inevitability. In the summer of 2011 there was no money for new signings and the banks were barking at the Goodison boardroom door. An unseemly leaked conversation between the chairman and a fans’ group laid bare many of Everton’s problems. Vultures loomed again, and on deadline day Arsenal made a £10million offer for the midfielder, which was accepted. Resignation rather than anger – as had accompanied the sales of Lescott and Rooney on previous deadline days – greeted the mood. Arteta was somehow different and his exit was conducted in a manner that befitted the way he played football: with dignity and a touch of class.
‘Leaving Everton means the world to me. This is my family and I can see from the reaction people have had with me that it is a proper family. Everyone was devastated,’ he said in an emotional farewell. ‘I have Everton in my heart and I’m not going to earn more money, I just think it’s the right time to move and hopefully they will understand. I appreciate what they have done for me and it has been an absolute pleasure to play in front of them ... I just want to thank the fans. Some will get upset. What I can say is that I have given all I have for Everton... everything.
I could play better or worse but I always try my best. I made my decision for the best of the club. Thanks a million times for the love, the support and how good they have been with me and my family.
I am always going to be an Everton supporter... there’s no doubt about it.
Arteta gave five years service as an Arsenal player and captained the club to the 2014 FA Cup, his first major honour in English football. His final two years in London were plagued by injury and he retired in 2016, immediately taking up the assistant manager’s job at Manchester City, where he was reunited with his former Barca teammate, Pep Guardiola. Here he became one of the country’s most highly regarded coaches and following the dismissal of Marco Silva as Everton boss in November 2019 was strongly linked with a return to Goodison as his successor. At the same time the Arsenal manager’s job had become available and, having narrowly missed out a year earlier to Unai Emery, Arteta got his chance in management at The Emirates Stadium.