Mikel Arteta: “I don’t ask people to like or love me. It’s who I am’ | arsenal

MIkel Arteta is extremely intense. That becomes clear fairly quickly in the opening episodes of All or Nothing: Arsenal – Amazon’s stunning documentary about the club’s 2021/22 season. His team talks are life and death: enemies are there to be killed, expletives shriek. “Whatever happens, I don’t want a damn player to complain and a damn player to leave,” he urged at half-time in the Emirates Stadium dressing room, before sending the team back to Chelsea.

His intensity doesn’t let up as I sit across from him on a picnic bench outside Arsenal’s Colney Training Center in London ahead of the documentary’s release. “That’s me,” says Arteta, answering my questions with ruthless efficiency and the unwavering gaze of a hawk studying its prey.

“The passion I have for this game, for this club, drives that emotion and that level of involvement and that desire and hunger to be the best and to improve at all times.”

Arteta, 40, is the linchpin of Amazon’s latest reality documentary series. Others drift in and out of single-episode arcs, but his narrative presents the clearest unbroken line: Can the league’s youngest manager take his youngest team from rock bottom to improbable heights?

The answer: somehow.

After losing their first three games, Arsenal finished fifth in the Europa League, higher than eighth of the previous two seasons, but they did so after ceding a lead to Tottenham for a coveted fourth place in the Champions League. Most Arsenal fans (which I am one of) would agree that the season represented steady progress, if not a resounding triumph, on and off the pitch. As for the manager, he silenced many of his critics.

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

Self-image plays a subordinate role. “It doesn’t [concern me] but it affects my loved ones and of course everyone wants to be liked. But I guarantee you will see who I am and not just me, who we are as a club, which is most important, much more important than me and hopefully that perception is positive. That worries me a lot more than my personal one.”

At times, our conversation feels like a continuation of the series: a club-managed, carefully curated behind-the-scenes look. He is affable and polite, but reserved. Shortly before our appointment, the promised interview time is significantly reduced; not even my assurances that I am an Arsenal season ticket holder can convince him to stay and open. Maybe it’s shyness; perhaps a general distrust of the media (he regularly highlights media hostility towards him throughout the series).

Arteta’s concern is probably understandable given the intensity of the criticism he’s received over the last season. Arsenal’s shocking start is well documented: deservedly beaten by Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City; zero points and zero goals; bottom of the league. The dissatisfaction culminated in a number of fans confronting the manager in his car after the Chelsea game.

Mikel Arteta
Arteta takes on the pressure of managing Arsenal and trying to take the club back to the Champions League. Photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC/Getty Images

If Arteta still harbors resentment towards those who have so vocally turned against him, he doesn’t show it. “Well, they express their feelings [when] We lose football games and we are here to win and we should never forget that. We can have the best of intentions, but you have to win football games. And if you don’t do that as a manager, you will be fired. It’s that simple and clear.”

It’s an evasive answer, but he’s at least more direct with fans like me who had their faith in him and the club, which has been restored over the course of the season. “I am so thankful that they are now happy that we are continuing on this path together because without our supporters there is no point in what we are doing.

“One of our greatest tasks – and [it’s a] beautiful thing – is to make people happy and enjoy certain moments in their life. And that’s what we’re responsible for, and it’s a lot of pressure but at the same time an incredible power to have.”

After the first three defeats, Arteta chose his pre-game conversation in the next game against Norwich to share a story from his childhood. He was born with a heart condition that prevented his heart from getting clean blood. He underwent surgery when he was two years old and was one of the first in Spain to undergo such an operation. Doctors rule out sport. But when he was three years old he fell in love with football; he still remembers his first black and white ball and football shirt (Barcelona).

‘I was scared’: Arteta speaks ahead of game in new All or Nothing: Arsenal clip

“I was much more aware [of the heart condition] as I evolved and grew because there were some issues and limitations, but I probably wasn’t aware of that [potential repercussions]. my parents were They were really brave because they’re pushing and pushing and pushing and [said]: ‘We will try to get advice from the best doctor.’ They were really honest but at the same time brave to allow me to do certain things.”

His mother always worried that he was playing. “My mom never wanted to watch me play because she always had this problem in the back of her mind: What happens if I push my heart to the limit?”

And his father? “My dad was a bit stronger and I think he realized, ‘I’m not going to stop him, whether he’s a professional footballer or an amateur. [No matter how] is competitive, he will play the same way.’”

Arteta was, he says, a very active kid who played a lot of tennis and also football. He tried to sit still. “It was difficult to let me sit at this table. But I was pretty responsible. So when I knew I had to do something. I always have.”

Judging by Arteta’s reputation as a manager and player, it’s easy to picture him as a well-educated, highly disciplined kid. “My dad was very, very disciplined with me in that sense. The threat was simple and very effective: If you don’t do it, don’t play football. So it wasn’t a choice for me.”

Does he channel his father in his management of his players? “The way you were raised and educated is a big part of who you are as a person – including as a father to try to instill those values ​​in your children as well. So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

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In nearly three years as a manager, Arteta has built his reputation as a staunch disciplinarian with his “non-negotiable values” of respect, commitment, passion, a hardworking tactician and an effective coach. Granit Xhaka calls him a freak (“but in a good way”) for his attention to small details. He also seems to enjoy quirky team talks.

Before the Leicester game at the King Power Stadium, he has the team stand in a circle and rub hands together as they imagine their success in the game before grabbing each other’s hands and creating a bubble of energy. It’s a lot less terrifying than it sounds, and Arteta’s impassioned performance helps him avoid all comparisons to David Brent (and, in fairness, the ensuing 45 minutes ranked among 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 with other sports, very rich in how they manage the culture, how they deal with different situations, how they apply the methods to the style of play, the you want to.

“A lot of my training doesn’t stop here. 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’s a natural leader — “The role gives you an opportunity to become a leader, but the players decide who the leader is and they have to feel it” — and when asked why Players believe him so passionately, saying he is distracting to the collective.

Mikel Arteta
Arteta has made a name for himself at Arsenal as a staunch disciplinarian. Photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC/Getty Images

“We have the right people here to convince them that they are in the best club in the world and try to do the right things, things that are beneficial to them, that they feel protected when they fail, and that they do They will be trusted to do what we have asked them to do. You can’t do this alone.”

As for the most difficult aspect of management: “Probably that line between how personal it gets and how professional it gets and when… You have to make a decision based on the professional.” He doesn’t go into specifics, but I’m not sure if he has to do that.

He says he’s lost sleep because of work and breaks out into a rare smile, though he’s quick to add that such insomnia is rare. “I think I’m pretty good at falling asleep. One thing that is very important to me is to make sure what happens tomorrow is under control. And the things I have to do tomorrow are already on their way to being done. If I don’t have that, then I find it very, very difficult.”

For Arteta, one of the biggest challenges of the job is not taking his work home with him, which is made all the more difficult now that his three boys – aged 13, 10 and seven – have caught football fever. “You love football and of course you ask me what happened or why he didn’t play?” And ask for updates on summer transfer business? “Yes, all summer,” he says exhausted.

Do they have at least a bunch of non-negotiable things that are similar to your players? “They have, especially with their mother because she’s the one who puts in a lot of the hours and [takes] the responsibility with them. So mom is the one they really have to take care of… and I’m really lucky because they’re pretty amazing kids.”

Watching Arteta in the documentary, it’s impossible not to think of Arteta’s old boss Arsène Wenger and his own obsessive devotion to the game.

When Wenger published his memoir last November, he opened up about his regrets at not taking care of his family like he should have. Football always came first. Is Arteta afraid of making the same mistake? “People talk about the balance between family and football or your job and at the moment there is no balance. What I’m getting better at is giving them more time when I’m there.

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

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

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