Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta hasn’t just battled with Pep Guardiola as opposing managers – but also on the pitch as teammates.
The 41-year-old joined Barcelona’s academy in 1997, but ultimately departed for Rangers in 2002 in a £6million deal.
And it was Guardiola he replaced for his professional debut as a fresh-faced 16-year-old in 1999.
Having been invited over to join the first-team squad in Germany by then-boss Louis van Gaal, Arteta came on as a substitute in Barca’s 2-1 friendly defeat against Hertha Berlin.
Speaking to Mundo Deportivo reporter Joan Domenech immediately after the match, the excitable teenager said: “It’s a dream come true.
“I was thinking that this couldn’t be me, watching myself playing alongside Figo and Kluivert.”
Even Guardiola gushed over the youngster, who declared: “With Xavi, Iniesta and Arteta, everything suggests that Barca won’t have problems in this position for the next 20 years.”
Arteta would have been thinking his outing was a sign of things to come, but it turned out to be his only appearance for the Catalan outfit.
Speaking in 2005 to the Independent during his time at Everton, Arteta revealed he failed to warrant a place in the team due to skipper Guardiola.
He subsequently spent two seasons with Barcelona’s B team, before being shipped out on an 18-month loan to Paris Saint-Germain.
Once he returned, Guardiola was plying his trade in Italy, with Arteta deemed as surplus to requirements with Xavi and Iniesta ahead in the pecking order.
Describing his situation, Arteta remarked: “I played my first game for Barcelona at 16 when I came on as a substitute for Guardiola.
“I found myself playing alongside Rivaldo, Figo, Kluivert, Luis Enrique, all superstars, but they were brilliant with me on and off the pitch.
“I had supported Barcelona as a boy because of the way they played and Guardiola was my hero, as he was to a lot of people in Barcelona because of his personality and character, as well as his ability as a player. [Michael] Laudrup was another hero of mine.
“It was disappointing to leave, but sometimes it is more important to have your feet on the floor, to take a look around you and realise that with Guardiola and other, more established midfielders ahead of me, I would need to wait another three years before I got in the team.
“So I decided to go Paris and play in the Champions League and maybe come back in two years.”
Fast forward to 2016, and Arteta, who had just retired from playing at Arsenal, was reunited with Guardiola after he was brought in to be one of his assistants after taking charge of Manchester City.
The pair won two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and two League Cups together, before Arteta returned to the Emirates to take over from Unai Emery in December 2019.
And he masterminded a 2-0 FA Cup semi-final win over Guardiola’s City in July 2020 as he guided Arsenal to an unlikely piece of silverware after beating Chelsea in the final.
Though with eight defeats out of ten matches against his former mentor, Arteta remains the apprentice.
However, after coming out on top in their last meeting in the Community Shield, Guardiola knows that Arsenal are becoming the force that Gunners fans have been praying for.
Arteta’s Arsenal almost pipped City to the top-flight title last season – and should have after leading the table for 248 days.
It is a journey that has come full circle for Arteta, from trying to oust Guardiola out of the Barcelona line-up to attempting to snatch the Premier League away from his grasp.
And while he may not have been good enough to play ahead of Guardiola, it remains to be seen whether he can outwit his Spanish compatriot in the dugout.
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