Reflecting on a chaste playing career across sparse moments of glory, Mikel Arteta’s otherwise celebrated spell on British soil is equal parts baffling and heartwarming.
Routinely viewed as an unlikely hero despite his esteemed name, the Spaniard remains an insider’s best friend after being linked with a coaching role at Tottenham before deciding on Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Among the first Spanish footballers to enjoy such a long and rewarding time in Britain, a baby-faced Arteta traded Barcelona for Rangers in 2002 after a loan stint at Paris Saint-Germain.
A catalyst in his steady rise thereafter, the Spaniard’s time in France brought him to the company of many high-profile names just beginning to garner widespread attention.
Jay Jay Okocha, Mauricio Pochettino and Ronaldinho were among Arteta’s club colleagues at the time, with the playmaker seen as a useful addition across 31 appearances in 2001-02.
If exposure abroad at one of Europe’s top clubs wasn’t met with excitement, any homesick preoccupation on the youngster’s part seems attributable to Barcelona’s maudlin image, particularly dear to a player besotted with the Catalan giants from a young age.
Observing from afar in the Basque country, blue and red were Arteta’s adopted colours, however confused this theme would later become after racking up appearances at PSG and Rangers, but hardly Barcelona.
Indeed, had ‘Gers’ manager Alex McLeish not spotted the San Sebastian native’s burgeoning talent, Arteta may well have matured in the Barcelona midfield alongside the likes of Xavi, however displeasing the thought is for Andres Iniesta fans.
Furthermore, to think that Arteta and Iniesta weren’t too dissimilar in style of play, and are only separated by two years in age, things might’ve turned out differently.
Strangely for this reason, Arteta may reflect ruefully on his good form in Paris since it denied an immediate return to the Catalan club, despite insisting first team opportunities warranted precedence, wherever they lay.
If PSG’s squad wasn’t held as an embarrassment of riches, Barcelona’s certainly was, and shifting key men from it marked a steep ask for any footballer, not least a 20-year-old.
Had he done poorly in France, Arteta might have at least returned to Barcelona and pressed on eagerly in their B team. Better still, he could have waited on an opportunity to progress in Spain at a lesser club, La Liga or otherwise.
And considering the midfielder later believed a stint on home turf at Real Sociedad would bring him closer to the Spanish national team, entertaining this idea isn’t without logic.
But the telling part is this – had he not acquired years of experience on British soil as a player, Arteta won’t have been asked to mentor Guardiola’s troops this season.
Pep clearly values his countryman’s wealth of knowledge within the English game and is, by extension, a better manager through Arteta’s acclimatisation to the British code – specifically as a fellow deep-lying playmaker steeped in a more physical footballing background.
If we really indulge fatalistic notions around Arteta, there’s tremendous vindication in working under a boyhood hero, supposing the former Arsenal man is prepared to leave the gut-tingling feeling of barely playing alongside Pep behind him.
And for one as ambitious as Mikel Arteta, the dream job at City marks a start and not an end, however contented he is at the minute.
Potentially an improvement on Roberto Martinez, we could see a fanciful but organised style emerge under Arteta if playing stock is anything to go by.
Conjecture only knows when and where he’ll take up the reins himself, but learning from a man responsible for reinventing close passing and high pressing can only be an almighty good thing.
And while getting ahead of ourselves is ill-advised, Arteta’s appointment as a coach just so happens to fall within the last year of Arsene Wenger’s contract at Arsenal.
While you can be absolutely certain he won’t be replacing his former boss at the Emirates, a contigency plan in North London wouldn’t read properly without some nod towards Mikel Arteta and his cultured understanding of the game, having injected plenty of imagination into the footballing landscape across a decade and a half in the UK.
If silver linings mean silverware for a man of modest yield as a player, maybe he’s owed a trophy or two in management.