The past week has seen a number of our international players jet back to London Colney at various points to prepare for our trip to Chelsea, but despite the disruption, Mikel Arteta feels that the cosmopolitan flavour of his squad is actually a strength.
We had 14 players represent their nations recently, playing in fixtures spanning from Uruguay to the USA, and the UAE to East Asia, sampling the highs and lows of the world game and absorbing lessons that’ll stand them in good stead when they next pull on the famous red and white.
They’ll also migrate back to north London to share their latest experiences with their teammates, and that pleases the boss who feels the current blend of characters and nationalities has forged the unique team spirit that has driven us to new levels in recent seasons.
“When you create the right context and give people accountability and support, you get the best out of them,” Mikel said this week. “I was given a lot of support and opportunities and that’s why you can fulfil your dreams.
“We’re all different, and that’s the beauty of it. One of the things that amazes me the most in our squad is that we have 19 different nationalities. Different backgrounds, different educations, different languages, different ways of being raised.
“Some have parents, some don’t have parents, some have parents who are divorced, some with sisters, one sister, five brothers… it’s incredible how everybody gets united with one purpose and one love which is the love for playing football. I love spending time with them and understanding who they are and what they want to do with their lives.”
If any of our squad wish to find out more about Mikel’s background, a simple Google search does the trick. Having spent two decades in the game as a player and manager constantly in the limelight, there’s is plenty to uncover - and they might be in for a surprise scrolling through old images!
Like many of his contemporaries in the early 2000s, Mikel enjoyed experimenting with his hair before settling on his now more sensible, trademark style - and with hindsight, he admits those decisions weren’t some of the best of his career.
Reflecting on his previous looks, he laughed: “I think I was missing a few mirrors in my house, because I don’t like the way it looks! When you are young, you think something different to reality probably, but I learn from mistakes. Let’s keep it that way!
“My hair doesn’t need a lot of caring for. I just need some gel and that’s it. It doesn’t move so much, because it’s so thick, it’s like my father and my mum, they have very similar hair. I see my kids’ hair and it’s very different except one of them; he has my identical one and he always jokes about it. If I don’t lose it, I’m happy with it!”
Another adventurous fashion choice from the past also makes Mikel chuckle, as it prompts some light teasing within the Arteta household.
“My kids ask me: ‘Dad, did you used to have earrings?’ I was like ‘yes I did, it’s another mistake like with long hair.’ I still have the hole but I don’t see myself with an earring anymore!”
One manager who has also joked about Mikel’s fashion sense is his friend and rival Pep Guardiola, who has suggested in the past that he has superior taste when it comes to the pair. “He’s probably right! I cannot deny it,” Mikel smiled. “I’ve got better hair than him I think, but I think he’s a very elegant person.”
Their friendship remains strong, even following our 1-0 success over Guardiola’s Manchester City before the international break, with the two spending time post-match to catch up and have a debrief about the action on-field.
“We said goodbye to each other and we talked after that, like we do when we win and lose. That shouldn’t change. Obviously there are different emotions for both of us but we should be able to do that.
“Those games define the momentum of the season and, going into an international break, that momentum is really important. We played at home, we beat them in the Community Shield and we wanted to see if we had the consistency and the level to do it again against the best team in the world.
“We performed to a very high level individually and collectively and obviously it was a very special day for everyone.”
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