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What if Arteta had represented England at international level?

By Sumaiya Vawda (Debut Article)

It's the international break, so here's something vaguely relevant to fill your time.

In 2011, Mikel Arteta briefly flirted with the idea of representing England on the international stage. Asked about it on Sky’s Saturday Social in October of last year, he said, “I was ready to do it. I’m so grateful for everything this country has given me and my family; all the experiences that I have here . . . if I could give something back by representing the country, honestly, I was more than proud to do that.”

Arteta had the (mis)fortune of maturing when the Spanish midfield was anchored by Xavi, Iniesta, his close friend, Xabi Alonso and a blossoming Sergio Busquets. Arsenal skipper, Cesc Fàbregas, also played a prominent role, although often through a more offensive berth. A senior call-up, however, was on the horizon in February 2009, but an injury sidelined Arteta’s involvement. A further call-up for La Furia Roja never materialised.

The midfielder was 28 with no senior international caps to his name. Fabio Capello watched the player at Everton and expressed interest in giving him a call-up to David Moyes and Arteta’s camp. How was this a consideration for a Spaniard holding no British familial ties? At the time, FIFA’s residency rules created nationality eligibility for players living in a country longer than 5 years.

At the 2010 World Cup, Capello defaulted to a 4-4-2 formation, with Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and James Milner the midfield mainstays. Scott Parker was added to this core before the likes of Jack Wilshere emerged in ensuing years. It’s not difficult to envisage Arteta in this group, especially in the deeper role he occupied at Arsenal. His passing range made him a good continuity player, but one also able to contribute creatively. His positional awareness and leadership presence would have provided a good option alongside Barry to free up Gerrard and Lampard further forward. Overall, He would have made a decent squad player.

In 2012/13, Arteta bettered the passing and possession statistics of Michael Carrick, who himself did not enjoy a full England career. Since Capello raised the possibility of Arteta’s selection with the FA, one can only assume he had a tactical plan for the player’s deployment. English captain, Gerrard, backed the idea. He told TalkSport, “I'd certainly love nothing better than to see Mikel Arteta available for England.”

Thus, for a fleeting month, Arteta dared to dream of himself clad in white, red and blue. Representing the Three Lions would require bravery from all parties and some fancy legal footwork. The will was there but the way proved impossible as FIFA ruled Arteta ineligible. In order to switch nationalities, he would’ve had to have held English nationality at the time he represented Spain at junior level (back in 1999). In 2016, the then Arsenal captain reflected that he was ‘half ready to go to war’ with FIFA upon the ruling but decided against it.

The potential impact of Arteta’s inclusion on national team fortunes, his career arc and football discourse is something we’ll never know. However, ‘Spanish international Mikel Arteta’, would’ve likely had the best ring to it.

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