Thursday, February 9, 2023

Mikel Arteta talks to journalist Michael Calvin

If you’ve read any of Michael Calvin’s books or watched the documentaries he’s fronted, you’ll know he’s an award-winning journalist who always approaches interviews with an astute and well-prepped line of questioning.

He’s not just a football aficionado but also someone with an uncanny ability to draw out interesting snippets from even the most guarded individuals. The result for the viewer and listener is a better understanding of what makes his subject tick.

Ahead of last night’s match with Bodo/Glimt, Calvin sat down with Mikel Arteta who reflects on his upbringing, his mentors and the driving forces behind his Arsenal project.

The full episode of ‘Michael Calvin’s Football People’ is entitled ‘Mikel Arteta – rebuilding Arsenal in his own image’ and is available via all major podcast platforms. You can listen below and we’ve also produced a transcript of Arteta’s answers which is shared with Michael’s permission.

If you like Michael’s work, we recommend you keep an eye out for new episodes of his BT Sport podcast every Thursday and suggest you give him a follow on Twitter.


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On which leaders have shaped him and the influences he’s had…

The first ones, for sure, are my parents, the way they lead the family, the way they have constructed me and my sister as human beings with the values that they believed were the right ones for us to have a successful and a happy life. Then the way they did it, usually with all the members of the family, friends and especially with behaviours and facts which, in my opinion, is the most powerful way of living. After that, then it’s been a journey, a journey of finding the right people in your life to guide you, to inspire you and that has been in two or three different areas of my life. One has been sport, for sure, with teammates that I had, with coaches that I had, with people I’ve met along the line. In my private life, for sure, my wife who has done well like my parents with me, with our own family and raising our children and creating an environment at home that is unique for how we want to live our lives and to promote the values we believe in with our children. And then the other one, probably, is having opinions externally with other people in other industries, other areas, people that can judge or see your job or your role in a different way, that are listened to with one objective at the end to become a better person.

On the types of people he listens to and those he turns to when he’s under more stress than normal…

For example, in other sports, I am part of a group, which has other managers from other sports that gather together and we share experiences. We share experiences and you want an opinion on it, you want to be judged on your decision making, how would you act differently or not to that situation and that’s been incredible for me because there’s not competition there but they can put their skin in the situation because they have lived that situation in a similar way. One of the names is Eddie Jones, which I am building a very good relationship with him, he’s been really helpful and someone I admire so much. And I can name many others.

On Pep Guardiola warning him about the loneliness of his profession and being a guide…

The greatest thing with Pep is that I was able to see and feel what the role meant, working in another office and looking through the window or trying to read what he was feeling. He gave me the opportunity to get inside the mind and really verbalise how he was feeling, the fears that he had, things that were fulfilling, the reason why he was doing it, the periods that he had difficulties or he had good moments, he really shared deeply his emotions with me and that for me was really an incredible lesson. I knew him before we worked together but he did it in a way that tranformed the way I understand the profession and the reason why he was sitting there every day with such pride and such a passion as well.

On whether it is a conscious decision to share his deepest feelings with his players…

It’s not only with the players, we do it with the people that are next to us in our lives. It wouldn’t make sense not to do that when we spend more time with them than our own families. If there is a set of values that you want to promote or embrace like respect or trust, how can you trust somebody if you don’t really know how he’s feeling? It’s just impossible and if you want help and support, you need to give the opportunity to people to help and support you. That help can come from anybody. It can come from the kitman, it can come from the photographer, from the groundsman, it can be from anybody; just a word, a hug, the way he looks at you or talks about you, the way he can open up to you, it just opens up emotionally so many boundaries that if you don’t give access to that, I think you’re so limited in the role or as a person.

On whether he has to embrace pressure…

I always had it. It’s very different when you’re a player than when you are a manager. Probably the biggest fear as a player is to get badly injured; that’s the lowest point as a player, not being able to fulfil your potential because physically you cannot do it. As a manager, probably, it’s the fear of getting sacked. I made a very conscious decision the day I made the decision to be a head coach, I said it would happen, today, tomorrow, in a month’s time, in ten year’s time, I don’t know when it will happen but that cannot drive my emotion, it cannot be the reason why I do certain things or not. For me, the fear now as a manager is to let people down, not to give my best, not to be able to transmit what I want to do in the most efficient way to help those players and to [not] have the people, the supporters connected and understanding what we are about. That’s the fear. I cannot fail there. I can fail making the wrong tactics and losing the game and then someone else has the decision to decide what is best for the football club but I cannot [fail to] get people to understand or to follow what we’re about.

On whether his Basque heritage (and his experience of the region’s football passion) has played a role in his attempts to create closer links between Arsenal, as a club, and its supporters…

I am probably doing it because I’ve been educated like that as you said, I’ve been raised like that, I have those feelings and I will do it consciously and unconsciously, probably both ways. I think it’s the best way to have people enjoying what we do. If you talk to me about what are non-negotiables, people will go straight away to discipline; discipline and respect and it’s great. But for me, it’s enjoyment, especially in the industry that we’re in, to have a loving feeling in this sport. If we don’t have enjoyment, what the hell are we doing?

On whether he feeds off the unfulfilled ambitions of younger players…

Well, it’s all fulfilling. You know, when you see that innocence that they have, but at the same time the drive, the ambition, the energy, it’s so powerful. For us, at the end, we’re going to make decisions that are probably going to change their lives and we have to be very conscious of that. We want to get them exposed and in the firing line when they are ready to do so but in order to do that we don’t just prepare them for what to expect on the pitch but what is happening out there, what is going to happen with their families, their friends, there’s a lot of things that are going to be there. It’s a big responsibility for us as a club to do that and I think we have to offer them an integral package. In order to do that you have to build a personal relationship with them.

On whether certain players are unmanageable these days, due to their brand presence and status in the game…

I think it’s very dependent on the people they have around them and the character of that person, if their character can be moulded and influenced negatively by other people then that’s a very dangerous business to get involved in. In general, I would say we have to accept that the industry is moving in that direction and that the team that they [individuals] are surrounded by are bigger. It’s our responsibility as well to educate them and to make sure that they have the right people around them. If not, at some stage we’re going to have a conflict.

On what’s more important, talent or character…

Their character. 100 per cent. The talent can be developed, can be worked and can be transformed, sometimes, I think. Character and the nature of the heart of that person, I think it’s very difficult to transform. You can influence it but it’s very difficult to transform. That’s something that probably is down to how they have been raised, where they have been raised, what their culture means, what is important and relevant in their lives, how they fulfil their egos, their necessities and is very different. We have 17 different nationalities in the [Arsenal] dressing room and each of them has a wonderful story but they are so different one to another. Nowadays, when you want players to perform consistently at the highest level, they need to have certain characteristics to do that.

On what he’s looking out for when he walks into the dressing room…

Probably it happens a little bit before that, it’s how they get into the bus, how they get in the dressing room, how they are getting changed, what is the interaction between them, what is the energy there at the end. The energy is not only the temperature, but it’s the light as well, is the mood there? It’s difficult to express but you need to really activate, as a coach, those senses, to anticipate what is needed and then make a decision of what you think. A lot of times we’ll get it wrong probably, but it’s with the best of intentions.

On whether he’s ever gone back and watched his team talks…

I haven’t done it yet, on purpose because, when we did the unveiling of the [All or Nothing] documentary, it was very emotional for me going back there and very strange seeing myself there on camera. I have the rest to watch. What I have done, is I asked a few key people in my life to make an assessment of what they think of me without me looking at it. When I get that finalised, then I will do it myself. I want that blind piece of paper from people in the sport, some in other industries, some know me closely to understand what they think about it, where can I get better, where can I improve, what are the things that we should maintain and continue to do, that in my opinion will be a really helpful tool to help me improve in my profession and as a human being as well.

On how things work between him and Edu…

I’m lucky because from day one, the day he came in my house and explained the idea that he had and why he was convinced that I’m the right person to help move the club where he wanted to go, we clicked. We clicked personally, professionally and in our ambition. We clicked. Then we expanded that into the board, into the ownership. That relationship is extremely fluent and natural. It’s the only way that you can fulfil your potential when you have that. When you don’t have that, it’s very difficult.

On how long it could take him to maximise his impact at Arsenal…

It depends what you call success. If it’s winning titles or is it bringing a club together or back together. For me, this is much more powerful. We had a club that was in a difficult state, with a lot of cracks, a lot of diversions and at the moment it’s a very different club. That’s incredible and credit has to be taken by everyone at the top, to every player, to every member of staff who has worked here, because we’ve done that together. The next step, now we have the foundation, is to win and we are building a team to win knowing that this era is unprecedented in English football. Nobody has ever had in this league, teams that are capable of doing 100 points, 99 points, 98 points and they are doing that for many years now, something that we’ve not done ever in the history of this football club, even in our best times. That’s the aim and that’s the challenge. It’s a project, yes but that project has phases, and those phases are really short, sometimes just a month or three months, where we had to accomplish that. You are evaluating to lift a trophy, that’s something else. We’ve done it, we’ve won two trophies, but these are not the trophies that are going to put us into the level we want as a club. But this is certainly the direction that we’re taking.

On where he takes satisfaction…

It probably comes when the people who have been here for 30 years, who are really emotionally attached to the club, come to me and say ‘listen, I’ve never seen this before, I never felt that unity across the club, I never felt that unity with our supporters.’ Everything is sold out, we’re selling more shirts than ever, we don’t have tickets, they really feel connected to what we’re doing. The other thing is when I walk into the dressing room and around the building and I see there really a sense of family, that’s what they describe it as, not me, a sense of family and what it means to work for the club, to participate in this journey together. This is it, now we have to take that into winning football matches and winning trophies.

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Henrik

Wow, must listen!

C.B.

Intelligent guy, great mentors (Wenger and Guardiola) and building something special atm. Let’s hope it keeps going (eg no injuries to key players), currently very very exciting!

Goodly Morning

Also played for Walter Smith when he was at Rangers and Moyes at Everton so his breadth of experience of different types of management and tactics is wide.

Der32

This is a man who takes his job seriously and goes beyond. A transformative leader. And the best thing is that this transformation is visible to us fans. Let’s hope for a big performance on Sunday.

T.A.

I was very suspicious of the choice to hire him. I thought that doing a Project Youth required an experienced seasoned manager at the helm. He’s changed my mind but only because he really is out of the ordinary. Quite an exceptional manager. His comments on Edu are also very telling. They work exceptionally well together

Francesc

May I predict that Arteta is here for next 20 years?

RedHotHornBlower

His success is very visible and heightened by his personality and ability as a communicator. He’ll be in demand and City and Barca may come calling (as top clubs did for Wenger). If that happens, he may be tempted.

Dada

I am certified Chnage management practitioner, and one of the difficult things when managing is not only selling the idea of Chnage itself but to sustain the new culture to become the norm accross the organization.
What MA has done is simply brilliant.

Gervinhosheadband

Chinage?

Giuseppe Hovno

what is a Sheadband?

Fezec

Having seen the company I work for completely fuck this up repeatedly, I find this subject fascinating.

Do you think getting buy in from ‘employees’ at AFC would be easier due to the size of the organisation and the very visible, weekly results?

What challenges do you think Arteta would have faced due to the unique nature of the industry?

Dada

Interesting question. Just before Covid hit, I helped an organization with about a quarter of billion dollars Capex with their organizational redesign, this organization had total of 98 employees, yet this was the hardest assignment I have had. The smaller the organization the more hardened the attitude the more resistant people are to change. With MA I suspect that the need for change was well documented, canvassed, forces resistant to Chnage identified and culled. Because to me it was quite clinical. That said, he the future state of the club would appear to be superbly sold. I was never concerned… Read more »

Fezec

No that’s great. Thanks.

I always think we have such a diverse fan base, when stuff like this comes up it’s interesting to get a view from an bona-fide expert!

Explains why Gunnersaurus got the old heave-ho. Literal and figurative dinosaur…?

Boy Bastin

Can’t argue with any of that. Interesting question about his Basque heritage feeding into work with Arsenal. Having worked in Spain on and off over a few years, both the Basque and Catalonian regions have clear political and ethnic identities and histories that are deeply embedded. There is, of course, a strong element of political expression in support for Athletic Bilbao & Real Sociedad for the Basques and FC Barcelona (motto “More than a club” – and that’s meant literally) & Espanyol for the Catalans, and against “Castilian” Spain ruled from Madrid. I suppose you could channel some of that… Read more »

Giuseppe Hovno

after Brexit you never know!

Boy Bastin

The Customs posts are going up now …

Santa’s Thigh Grab

From a leadership perspective, Arteta is next level. He is something special with the honesty he leads his life, both for himself and those he works and lives with. Glad to see that KSE saw that too and gave him time when others would have not.

Giuseppe Hovno

a new podcast has entered the feed

Arun

Seems like Arsenal have struck gold twice. We got a generational manager in Wenger and seems like we have got one in Arteta too. All the very best to him.

Vieiraera

Just reading this and getting convinced all over again how fucking lucky we are and Manure, Sp*rs, Chelshit and the lots aren’t. Some of those head coaches are doing a job; others building a career. Arteta is building something greater – a way of life. The trophies will come. But while we’re waiting it’s so comforting to know we are in the right hands

Jimboslice

Yeeeep it’s been a ride and thank fuck we haven’t just been making short term panic buys to save the managers neck. Everything has been made with trust and patience in the process. Say what you want about the kronkes but they’ve trusted in the right manager and given him the funds for the rebuild.

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