If Mikel Arteta is Arsenal’s undisputed commander-in-chief, then there is no doubt as to who the club’s First Lady is. Lorena Bernal is the power behind the throne; his wife, long-term partner and closest confidante. She has stood shoulder-to- shoulder with the skipper through good times and bad, providing support and love in equal measure.
While some who marry a footballer might find it hard to adapt to life in the limelight, it was nothing new for Lorena. Crowned Miss Spain at the age of 17, three years before she met her future husband, the Argentinian-born actress had an early taste of the fame game.
Twelve months later, she travelled to London to compete in Miss World and has since gone on to forge a successful career as a presenter and actress, appearing in a host of Spanish films and TV shows such as the hugely popular CSI Miami.
Despite a packed schedule, Lorena still manages to find time to build a successful career, share the school run for her two sons and watch every Gunners game in the calendar. It sounds like a daunting challenge but, as she tells the Arsenal Magazine, she is lucky enough to have the perfect partner in Mikel.
“He has changed a lot, or evolved, over the years of his career,” she says. “Now he is more able to disconnect a little bit, although football is a huge part of his life and he has it almost permanently on his mind. He’s a superb father; he spends the afternoons with the children as well as his days off, and loves playing with them. We share 50 per cent the school run as well as many other tasks.”
"When I met Mikel I didn’t even know he was a professional football player"
You and Mikel sound like a great team. When did you first meet?
We met in December 2002, in San Sebastian. Mikel was living in Glasgow and I was in Madrid, but we both travelled to San Sebastian, the city where we grew up, for a few days to spend Christmas with our families. We grew up in the same place but had never seen each other until then. A couple of months later we started dating and after another few months I practically moved to Glasgow with him and travelled from there to work every week.
Were you interested in football before you met him?
I only used to watch the World Cup, never other competitions. Most of my family are Argentinian, and they feel passionately about the national team. When I met Mikel I didn’t even know he was a professional football player.
Do you watch many of the Arsenal matches Mikel plays?
Yes, all of them. When they play at home we always go to the Emirates and when they are away I watch it on TV. Or if I’m away or something, I always follow the games live on Arsenal.com. I would feel very nervous if I didn’t know what was happening.
Do your two boys – Dani and Gabi – support Arsenal?
Yes, they do. But we don’t want them to love a team and hate the others. They follow daddy and the team that daddy is playing for in a very passionate way. But they love football as a sport, not really as a competition.
"He cares a lot about the players, the staff, the club and he’s always thinking of ways to improve everything"
Do the kids realise yet that their dad is a bit different? Do their friends think it’s funny that their dad is a footballer?
They have started to realise it now, especially the eldest. For him it’s very normal what his dad does, he’s used to it, but the fact that other people look at his dad in a different way makes him realise that he might be different. His friends love to come home and play football with Mikel, who plays like another kid and sometimes he trains them!
The kids must feel English in many ways – how’s their Spanish? Are you trying to make sure they don’t forget their roots?
At home we only speak Spanish, it’s their reference language and their family’s language. At school they only speak English and have all English friends. It’s not easy to have roots when your parents are from different countries, you were born in a country and are growing up in another one. We try to teach them to enjoy every city, every culture and to be very open with all the differences between the countries. But we try to make sure they have San Sebastian as their city of reference, as we think it’s important emotionally to have a reference.
How proud were you and your family when Mikel became Arsenal captain?
We were all very proud! Arsenal has been one of his favourite teams ever and to have the opportunity of being their captain is something amazing for him. He’s doing very well with it, he cares a lot about the players, the staff, the club and he’s always thinking of ways to improve everything.
If there’s been a bad result, is Mikel someone who can immerse himself in family life to try to forget about football – or does he just have to be left alone?
He used to be very upset after a bad result and no one could speak to him for a few hours after the game. Now he’s a bit different, he still gets upset but when we get home we talk about it, analyse the game and approach it in a more mature way, in order to find the way of getting better for the next game.
Because it’s rather unusual to be a wife of a top footballer, does it make you close with other footballers’ wives and partners?
Of course that is a strong point in common, so normally there’s empathy between us. We all want our team to do well and we all suffer inside like our husbands do. But the fact some of us are from abroad and don’t have our families or friends close by makes some of us even closer. We are like a family, we support each other on the language or the new culture and we love to have fun together as we understand each other very well.
It must not always be easy to pursue your own career when married to a footballer and having a family too. What projects are you involved in now?
It’s not easy, especially when you live in a different country and you have children. Right now I’m focused on my family, but I do accept some jobs that take me away from home for one night. I decline everything else. I’ve been to LA a couple of times as well and there are a few projects that might be interesting, we’ll see. Anyway, I know that in not a very long time I will be able to go back to work and Mikel supports me on that.
What have been the highlights of your career?
I started modelling and studying drama as a child. When I was 17 I won the Miss Spain contest, moved to Madrid and started working professionally as a model, actress and TV presenter. Later I decided to focus on my acting career – which was what I was most passionate about – and worked on many TV series and a few films in Spain. I had then the opportunity to work in the American market in two films and that was when I moved to LA. It was exhausting to travel back and forward from LA to Liverpool but I really wanted to be in both places! Things went really well there until I got pregnant and had to put my career on stand-by because I took the decision to prioritise my family.
How did you get in to acting?
I had wanted to act since I was very little. When I was 11 they opened the first acting school in San Sebastian and my father applied for me to enter the school. I then started to study drama, I was the youngest by far in class but I learnt a lot and could start working quite quickly after being named Miss Spain. I always said in interviews that what I really wanted to do was act and that I had been studying for it since I was a child and I got the chances to prove myself and got the job.
Being in CSI Miami – a huge show globally – must have been fantastic?
It was great to have the opportunity to make the audition for that show and when my manager called me to tell me I got the job it was a very happy moment. I feel very honoured to have had that experience and can’t wait to go back and keep working.
How are Mikel’s acting/modelling skills?
Have you ever been asked to pursue any projects together? He is quite good actually! Especially in comedy and mimicry – he’s really good at copying voices! He has helped me sometimes with my castings but that’s all we have done together in that area.
Mikel is a player that people see as a natural coach/manager. What would you think about that?
I agree, he would be a very good one. The way he sees and reads football is pretty amazing. He also likes to manage groups and he cares a lot for every single one. But who knows? I will support him with any decision he makes.
Finally people – and Mikel himself in the recent rainbow laces/Paddy Power ad – have fun at how Mikel’s hair is always perfect. Is it?
I laugh a lot when someone says that! I don’t know what to say. He likes to put gel on it and it’s true that it’s hard to see him with a hair out of place, ha ha!
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