The news that Mikel Arteta had contracted coronavirus caused shockwaves in football - so how is our head coach now and how has his recovery been?
In an exclusive interview for Arsenal.com, our head coach discussed his initial diagnosis, how quickly the situation developed from there, self-isolation and more.
Read on for the full transcript:
Mikel, thanks for speaking to us in what is an unprecedented time for so many people. How do you feel about what has been happening and what is your message to our fans across the world?
We are living in a unique situation, so I think all of us are trying to react to the situation that is coming on a daily basis and trying our best to overcome the situation. First of all I would like to send a message to all the people who have lost their loved ones, those who are suffering in hospitals, having difficult moments and are sick - we have a massive gratitude to everyone who is involved in healthcare, in hospitals, people in services, people trying to provide food, transportation, everything that is so relevant to us. And please to everybody, we are a little bit behind other countries, for example Spain, where I know the situation they are living at the moment, and while we are having the opportunity a little bit to minimise the risk, I encourage everybody please to be responsible and stay at home as much as possible. That is all we can do from our position, we don’t have the ability to help others in other circumstances, so please at least stay at home and do what is required. We have to try to help the NHS as much as possible and we have to give the opportunity to the elderly people who needs this more than anybody else to get the treatment they require. We have to slow the process down and the virus down, so please stay at home.
Now, we know you've not been well. How are you feeling now?
I am feeling completely recovered, it’s true I started having some symptoms when we got the phone call from the club to let us know that we might be exposed to the virus because of the owner of Olympiacos and in that moment… I don’t know, I felt something within me, that I had it. We had a game the following day against Manchester City, so I made a decision and called the doctor straight away and I asked him to drive home. I spoke with Raul, Edu, Vinai, Huss and we set up a meeting together and I said, ‘Listen, we have a couple of players that have been exposed. There is a massive risk there and as well I am the first one feeling the symptoms, very clear symptoms. So if that is the case, all of the players and the people related to the club who are in contact with me on a daily basis are exposed. So we cannot make that decision, we have to speak to the Premier League, to Manchester City and we have to make the decision pretty quickly.'
It's incredible how quickly it happened. If you go back to two weeks when you were diagnosed, it feels like more than two weeks really. That week did start as you say with the Manchester City preparations and the press conference. Then it changed dramatically…
Absolutely and then obviously all the news we had was from China, then Italy and then Spain. Myself, I had it at home. Then you realise, 'Wow, everybody can be exposed here, this is very serious' and you start to think about the people that you've been in contact with and the other people that can be related to us. That's when a bit of fear comes. In terms of symptoms, it was a normal virus for me. I had three or four days which were a little bit difficult, with a bit of a temperature and a dry cough, and some discomfort in my chest. That was it. The difficulty is that I have people at home, three kids as well and I was worried. My missus has been through it and our nanny's been through it. Thank God, the kids never got it. We are all completely fine now.
What did self-isolation mean for you? What kind of precautions did you have to take at home?
All that I could. I set up a room and a bathroom, and I was there by myself for two or three days but after the second day, my missus started to feel some symptoms as well. It was probably too late because by the time that the symptoms arose, the virus was already contagious to other people. So we could not prevent it in our home, I think it was too late by the time we had the positive test as well. We were reacting and now that's why insist that instead of reacting, you have the chance now to stay at home and prevent a lot of situations. We have to do it.
With everyone now at home following those strict government guidelines, how is the club actually operating now?
Well I'm really impressed and I feel proud of where I am. In difficult moments is where you really see the people and how they react, how they think and how they prioritise things. All the phone calls I'm having with all the members of the board and all my technical staff, all the coaching staff, all the players, how aware and how encouraged they all are to try to help, to try to be on board with the situation and to try to make things easier for the club has been amazing. To be fair I have to say that I'm very privileged to work with these people.
Communication is such a major part of your job of course, Mikel. That includes daily contact with the players, with the coaches, among others. How are they getting on, the players and the coaches, right now?
There are different aspects that we have to try to maintain. One is health and that's the most important one for sure. We're just trying to cover all the necessities that players, staff and employees need to try to sustain the club with healthy people. That's the first one and that's our responsibility. The second one is the physical aspect. They all have programmes and they all have individual work to do that they are really doing and really trying to maintain themselves so they can prepare themselves for when we have to get back playing. The third one is the mind. There is the psychological support that they need, which we are giving them, and as well I'm giving them a lot of homework to do because I've been reviewing everything that we've been doing since I joined. There are things we have to maintain doing, improve and develop, and individually they are really enjoying the challenge. We might get a few coaches after this virus, or at least a few players that are willing to go down that path because I think they are really enjoying the process.
It seems like a lot longer than four months since you took over as head coach. So much has happened but you do have those four months of data and analytics to work with, so as well as sharing that homework with the players, what have you been able to work on?
Well, first of all it's a great opportunity for me to get to know the people there and I was talking before about the senior people at the club, but as well my own coaching staff, the people that are related on a daily basis. And then the communication with the players. Now I'm at home, they are not sitting next to me. We can open conversations in a different way and I think that over a worldwide situation it's affecting them and it's making them feel more human and vulnerable as well. They can feel relaxed talking about anything that we have to do. So I'm taking that opportunity as well to share different conversations with them that in my opinion have been really useful.
One of the pretty universal problems - whether you're a fan, a head coach or a player - has been filling that time when you're not working at home. What have you been doing with all that downtime?
Well, I have three kids with a lot of energy! They are 10, seven and four so you can imagine! I am a very positive person and I try to take the moment to say 'Ok, what can we take from this? What's the lesson here and what's the opportunity for us?. For 17 years, I haven't had the opportunity to wake up with my kids and spend a lot of time, dedicate my time and listen to them. You know, do their homework with them and the same with my missus. So this is a great opportunity. There are no excuses. We are in the household together and we are really enjoying those moments as well. My kids, do they miss their social aspect? Yes, they do. But at the same time, if you ask them, it's a unique opportunity in their lives to be with their parents on their own and have all the attention that they need. So in that sense, emotionally, I feel very fulfilled because I am giving them everything and it's something that I am not used to [being able to]. So yes, it's a great opportunity for us to do that.
It's a similar story for the players, I suppose. When you make that kind of sacrifice, when you travel that much, to have this time is maybe the silver lining to a very big cloud?
Absolutely and I think we are all realising how much we need each other. We are in a world here where everything is social media, everything is a WhatsApp text. But how important is touching each other, feeling each other and hugging each other? I miss that a lot with a lot of people that I love. I cannot do it now and I am sure that will transform a little bit of how people behave with their close ones, with the people that they love and that they care about. We have to be emotionally more open. We have to tell each other what we are feeling, because straightaway you know. It's one virus that is putting the world aside and it's transforming everything that we prioritise in life. So we have to take that lesson. We cannot just in two or three months' time - if we are able to get over this quickly - forget about this, because it's so important.
We can't finish, Mikel, without mentioning that today is your birthday of course. Happy birthday! It's one that you'll remember for very different reasons...
For sure! But as I said, all the people that I love have been in contact and have had a chance to speak to me and thank God we have the technology to do what we're doing at the moment! To be able to communicate with people. I have my kids, I have my wife here with me and they have been really caring and it is what it is. I am very lucky to have everything that I have in my life and I'm feeling now very sorry, as I would love to be able to help more to those people who are suffering in these moments.
Copyright 2021 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.