Mikel, thanks very much for talking to us.
Let’s go right back to the beginning, when you first came to Everton on loan. Can you
remember how the move came about? I think it was the last day in the transfer
window in January and I was playing in Spain, at Sociedad, and I wasn’t having a good
time. David [Moyes] called me on the last day and said, ‘I know you very well from
your times at Rangers, we need a player of your qualities, and we’re doing very well
but we have a very short squad so I think you can give us something extra’. In those
days Everton was fighting for the Champions League spots and I didn’t hesitate. I just
went, and it was a great decision. It was a good dressing room to go into, wasn’t
it? There were plenty of big characters in the dressing room… It was beautiful, one of the best I have ever
been in. Sometimes it is not easy when you come in January, they have their dynamics,
the group is done and it’s not easy to be a foreign player. It was a very English dressing
room at that time as well, they were very close together and the team was doing really
well. You say, ‘Okay, I’m coming in now and let’s see how I adapt’. But they were
a fantastic group, I had a great time and they are great memories. And Evertonians fell in love with you from
the moment you scored that free-kick against Crystal Palace… Yeah. To be fair, those fans were incredible
with me. I always felt part of that family, they made me feel very welcome and I tried
to give on the pitch what I had to make them proud. It was some achievement wasn’t it for that
group of players, with all due respect, to finish fourth in the Premier League? Yes, because it was a very short squad, and
the quality? It wasn’t a phenomenal squad. But we had the desire, we had the attitude,
we had the physicality, and I think David did a great job to get everybody involved
and everybody with the hunger to fight for a place. And we were very strong at home.
The atmosphere we created at Goodison was really hard to cope with for the opposition
and they were very good times. Particularly when we beat Manchester United
1-0. Duncan Ferguson scored the goal from your cross and Goodison Park shook, didn’t
it? It was an incredible night. It was a night
game and I remember those atmospheres there and they’re special moments. And I think
that helps as well. The Club was in a moment where they needed a process. The previous
year they were fighting against relegation and we made a step forward and I think that
created the momentum and put the Club in a different dimension. We started to recruit
different types of players, with more quality. We were associating with each other better,
we were playing better football, it wasn’t that direct, and I think after that season
the Club changed. We were denied the chance to push on in Europe
against Villarreal at the start of the following season and a lot of Evertonians still haven’t
got over that… It was incredible. I think that night we were
robbed. We scored when Duncan scored our goal from my corner and I think it was a good goal.
[Pierluigi] Collina, in his last game, he disallowed the goal and we were so frustrated
because that was us playing in the Champions League. We were playing really well as well, weren’t
we? If that goal had stood I think we would have won that game… I think so. I think in the last 20, 25 minutes
we were creating so many problems and they were dead to be fair, so I think the game
was going in our direction. It was a real blow and you could tell it was
still affecting the players when we went to Bucharest because we went to Bucharest, it
was 1-1 at half-time and then the second half was just really difficult… Yes, because emotionally we wanted to play
in the Champions League and that was there for the taking. It was a really big fight
the previous season to achieve that spot, to try to get into the Champions League, but
the Club reacted well afterwards and it was no problem. We had some great nights in Europe, didn’t
we? We had the likes of Metalist Kharkiv away from home and Nuremberg when we took goodness
knows how many thousands of supporters… Fiorentina as well. I remember when we played
them at home, it was great and the fact it was the first year after so many years without
European football I think the Club and the fans were waiting for those nights, those
moments and we did well. The atmosphere against Fiorentina, we were
2-0 down from the first leg and when you scored that goal from outside the box to make it
2-2 on aggregate, again, the noise was unbelievable… Incredible. You’re talking about it and
my skin goes like this (tingles). I remember that night. Honestly, the atmosphere we created
at Goodison on those nights… that stadium is so particular and is different, you know.
It’s very English. And when you are a player and you step on that pitch, you have that
sense around the crowd and the fans. The energy they create is incredible. And you worked well with Tim Cahill. He was
a close pal of yours… He was my closest friend, he was like a brother
with me. On the pitch we used to get on really well, we understood each other really well.
But outside of the pitch we had a great relationship, with my wife, my family, and his family as
well, and up to now he’s one of those players who I can say is one of my closest friends. He did a terrific job for Everton, didn’t
he? He was incredible. He was, for me… he was
the identity of that Club. He had everything that the Club could demand for a player to
be. He could put his head into any challenge, he would fight for every ball, he had a desire
to win every game, he was training, he was a good example in the dressing room… and
then he was very open with everybody. He was close to the fans, he was close to the Chairman,
you know Tim… he loved to do that and, in my opinion, he was the guy who had the identity
of the Club. He was a big game player, wasn’t he? You
could rely on Tim in the big games… He used to love going to Anfield, going to
Stamford Bridge… big nights like this he was always ready for the fight. He was a massive
player for us at the time. Did you enjoy the Merseyside derbies? Absolutely. Is it possible to enjoy them or is it too
frantic? I would like to play more football, you know.
But back in the day it was impossible. They were superior to us in terms of quality, and
you have to say that, so when you go into that challenge our game was to make that game
ugly. That was the intention of our set-up… to make the game ugly and don’t make them
feel comfortable. Because, technically, they were better than us. We have to accept that. Were you surprised to see Duncan Ferguson
go into coaching? No, because the perception with Dunc is like,
‘Wow, he was crazy and he was so emotional and this’ but I think he was a very clever
player. He could read the game, he could read the weaknesses of an opponent and I’m not
surprised. And, as well, he was great around the place. He was very demanding and he would
get frustrated at you and obviously he was a legend at the Club so it’s great to have
someone like that in your coaching staff. How disappointing was it to miss out on the
FA Cup final? We were fighting to get some titles and we
made it all the way back to be there fighting with the top clubs and, after, I did my cruciate
in a really bad moment, probably when I was playing my best football. I missed it and
then, as well, when we lost I was gutted, because that was such an opportunity. We knew
that we weren’t going to get many of them and when we lost that final I was gutted. When Louis Saha scored in the FA Cup final
after 20-odd seconds, was a little bit of you thinking it’s too early? My feeling was ‘too early’. Too early
because you haven’t played that many games of that calibre and then your mindset goes,
‘Okay, we have to defend the goal’. And still to have 89 minutes against those teams
is too long. The next 10 minutes were hard and we didn’t play well. We started to defend
really deep and I said, ‘It’s going to be a long day’. He was a quality striker wasn’t he, Louis? Incredible. Louis was a tremendous player. And you played alongside Tim Howard many,
many times as well. And he’s still playing… Incredible. But, again, another example. The
way he looked after himself, how he loves football, the career he had over the years…
incredible. What Tim has done is fantastic. Your relationship with the supporters was
always special to you, wasn’t it? My only concern is… when I left, I felt
personally that I gave my best and that I couldn’t offer anything else. I thought
a year before that I should have moved and I had a move in place. The Chairman and David
said, ’No, we don’t want you to go, stay one more year’. I stayed but I felt that…
I don’t know. I think the limit was there and now it’s going to go down. I didn’t
want that feeling because in seven years we went from here to be fighting with the top
four or five teams in the Premier League, and that was a big gap. I didn’t think that
they [the fans] understood my decision and they were so disappointed, which I understand
because they didn’t want me to leave, and I was convinced that it was the right move
for everybody – not just for me, but for everybody. And then it left a bad sensation because when
I went back my first time with Arsenal obviously they were upset and the reaction towards me…
it wasn’t what I was expecting because my feelings towards them were completely different.
But that is football and you can’t make everybody happy. I understood that, I made
people upset and I’m very sorry about it. But it wasn’t my intention – it was because
I truly believed that it was the right time for me and for somebody else to come into
my place and give something different to the Club and the team. I think every Everton supporter will look
back and say that Mikel Arteta gave his best in every game for Everton, and did well… I hope they do. And I hope that the feeling
they have is this one and not the fact that I let them down because I went to Arsenal.

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