Per Mertesacker says an intervention by Mikel Arteta played a vital role in keeping him at Arsenal when he approached retirement.
After Manchester City recruited the Spaniard to Pep Guardiola’s backroom staff, the midfielder told manager Arsene Wenger and CEO Ivan Gazidis to find a future role for the German as he wound down his career on the pitch.
Heeding the advice, the pair took the unusual decision of appointing the German to the role of Academy Manager a year in advance of the end of his final playing contract.
Despite having no experience, Mertesacker took up the position in the summer of 2018 and has been learning on the job ever since.
In an interview with The Beautiful Game podcast, the BFG explained how he came to take on such a prestigious position.
“Seven years after that entry point [joining Arsenal], Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis drove that conversation.
“First they asked if I wanted to stay at the club. What helped was the year before, Mikel Arteta had left to move to Man City and I think they didn’t want to lose another player who could make a difference, in their mind.
“I think Mikel actually said to them, ‘If you don’t want to lose a good person again, you know, offer this guy something!’
“Arsene drove it, he asked me if I wanted to stay at the club. Obviously, I asked my wife, who is obviously important. The ‘government’ then agreed, yeah, we want to stay in England actually. We are settled after seven years. And then they offered me the job.
“It was a bit overwhelming actually, I have to say. There are a lot of [more] experienced academy managers that throughout my time now.
“My motivation was, I’d seen academy players going into the dressing room and I thought to myself, I could probably make a difference here to prepare them a little bit better for what is required to achieve the highest level and not to think that you’ve achieved everything by getting to the first team dressing room, it’s how you challenge the status quo. How do you ask questions and challenge people who have been successful for 10 to 15 years, I hadn’t seen that [from an academy kid]?
“I thought, let’s make sure when I do this, that I have this constantly in my mind. It’s good. It’s not a knock, Arsenal’s academy has always been great in producing players but I said to myself I want to make a difference and take this seriously. I think Arsene knew what he’d get from me in terms of commitment to the job that I didn’t know but was willing to learn from day one.”
Mertesacker also outlined why he hopes Arteta gets the time he needs to progress a first team project that could a few years to yield on-pitch success.
“You always want the shortcut, you know, ‘bang’ straight back into the Champions League, straight back into being successful,” he said reflecting on the aftermath of Wenger’s departure in 2018.
“I think even myself, realising and working now with the academy, going more long term and developmental, I think we see kind of similar-ish traits in the first team, and I hope that Mikel gets the time that he needs.
He added: “I want to be successful tomorrow, I want to go back in the Champions League tomorrow, I want to speak to people and say, ‘listen, we have got the best club in the world who challenges for titles every single year’. That’s not the reality. I think the earlier we get on the train of ‘we are in a big, big transition still’ [the better].
“To have sustainable success there needs to be some trust. I’m all for trusting people. Mikel Arteta, and I perceive him to be the right person, lets give him the trust and the development squad that he can take to the next level that will achieve Champions League football, maybe in two to three years.
“From a club person, that’s my take basically at the moment, because I’ve worked with Mikel very very closely.
“I know how much he wants it, I know his work ethic, I know how intense the squad works at the moment to get to a better level. I think we all have to swallow disappointment at the moment, which I’m keen to change, but the environments that we are going to deliver in the next years will be key for our success.
“The stakes are very very high, and I understand that there is a lot of criticism, but some people need to swallow that and try and grow with it, and Mikel is someone that does that.”
We’d definitely recommend you watch / listen to the full interview. As usual, Per speaks candidly about the state of the club.
EXCLUSIVE: @Podcast_TBG interview with Per Mertesacker🚨
🔹Legacy of Arsene Wenger👔
🔹Fan pressure on Arteta & Edu🤔
🔹Super League regrets❌
Youtube – https://t.co/ANWUFmK52g
Apple – https://t.co/g3T4xTNDuj
— The Beautiful Game Podcast (@Podcast_TBG) September 20, 2021