Making his mark

Mikel Arteta played mostly as a central midfielder early in his career but has flourished at Everton after being given the opportunity to play in wider positions, writes Andy Hampson.

Mikel Arteta is a strong attacking midfielder who has developed into one of the most influential players in the Barclays English Premier League during his time at Everton, although he still awaits international recognition from Spain.

Arteta hails from San Sebastian in the Basque region, where he was a childhood friend of Liverpool star Xabi Alonso. The two players are now neighbours in Liverpool’s Albert Dock area along with another Spaniard, Jose Reina, who Arteta knows from his younger days at Barcelona.

Along with Alonso, Areta played for the Basque youth club Antiguoko in San Sebastian. Antiguoko operates as a feeder club for Real Sociedad but Barcelona spotted Arteta’s talent first and picked him up at the age of 15.

However, he never threatened to make the breakthrough at the Nou Camp and was sent on an extended loan to Paris St. Germain in 2000. He established himself at the senior level at PSG, playing in a team that included the likes of Ronaldinho and Jay-Jay Okocha. Two years later he was scooped up by Scottish giant Rangers in a GBP6 million deal.

His career began to show promise as he helped Rangers to a domestic treble in his first season. However, injuries led to a loss of form the following year and when Alonso’s move from Real Sociedad to Liverpool in 2004 offered a route back to Spain, Arteta opted for his hometown club.

The move home did not prove the dream ticket he hoped for and he failed to establish himself in the first team. After just half a season he was allowed to join Everton on loan and finally his career began to take off.

He helped Everton finish in a UEFA Champions League qualifying position and earned a permanent move to Goodison Park. He soon became one of the Toffees’ most influential players and was voted the club’s Player of the Year for two consecutive seasons. He also made it to the Barclays English Premier League’s team of the year in 2006-07.

Arteta played mostly as a central midfielder early in his career but has flourished at Everton after being given the opportunity to play in wider positions. Everton awarded him a new five-year contract last January and manager David Moyes has regularly called for him to be included in the Spain squad. So far seven Under-21 caps are the limit of his international career.

Arteta is currently dating former Miss Spain Lorena Bernal, a model and TV presenter. Bernal, who was born in Argentina, has also tried to make a career as an actress.

That Arteta appears to have found a home away from home at Everton may have come as a surprise to some people. He was known to be homesick at Rangers and then failed to settle back at his hometown Real Sociedad.

“I find the situation very strange; perhaps it’s best for the club that I move on,” he said shortly before joining Everton. “It’s been very difficult to improve my situation at Real Sociedad because I do not have the confidence of the coach in charge and I have never received an explanation as to why I have been continually left out.”

The situation could not be more different at Everton, where he says he feels he belongs. His talent for learning languages has helped, too. After picking up English, he now speaks seven languages (Spanish, Basque, Catalan, Italian, French, English and Portuguese).

One of the most disheartening episodes in Arteta’s career came during his spell at Rangers in February 2004. His GBP85,000 Porsche was vandalised outside a bowling alley in Glasgow and two days later he missed a penalty as Rangers were knocked out of the CIS Insurance Cup by Hibernian. It later emerged that the car damage was done by Celtic fans because Arteta was a Catholic playing for Rangers.

FACTFILE Name: Mikel Arteta Position: Midfielder Club: Everton D.O.B.: 28/03/1982 Spain caps: 0 Moment to remember

Arteta scored one of his best goals for Everton which settled a pulsating but tight encounter against Bolton at Goodison last November. The Spaniard left the Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen helpless after ending a brilliant solo run with a powerful shot into the top corner on the hour.

Moment to forget

Everton endured a miserable Merseyside derby in December 2005 with Liverpool winning 3-1 at Goodison. Everton’s woes were compounded by the sendings off of Arteta, after a bad foul on Luis Garcia, and Phil Neville. Everton’s manager David Moyes admitted there were no excuses. “The two lads who were sent off, Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta, should have known better because they knew they were on yellow cards and had to be careful,” he said.

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