Why Did Mikel Arteta Never Play For Spain?


Mikel Arteta made 539 appearances for six different clubs between 1999 and 2016, scoring 74 goals. Despite his undeniable ability, the San Sebastian-born midfielder never earned an international call-up for Spain. But why?

Simply put, Arteta was overlooked at international level due to the high level of competition in the Spain midfield. Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Xavi were at the peak of their powers when Arteta was in his prime. As a result, there was no room for the Arsenal legend in the Spanish national team.

Arteta revealed in a 2016 interview with talkSPORT that he came “very close” to earning a call-up on three occasions. He even received words of encouragement from the Spain camp about his international prospects. Ultimately, he learned to accept that representing his country was never going to happen at a time when Spain boasted “probably the best midfield of any generation ever”.

Was Mikel Arteta eligible to play for England?

In 2010, Fabio Capello wanted Mikel Arteta to play for England after the then-Everton midfielder completed five years’ residency in the country. Arteta was keen to represent the Three Lions, but the idea was shot down by a little-known FIFA ruling.

According to FIFA article 18.1.a, Arteta would only have been eligible to play for England if he held a British passport when he previously represented Spain at youth level. The Spaniard did not possess the required documents as a youth player, meaning his England hopes were dashed.

In the same talkSPORT interview, Arteta said he was “half ready to go to war” in an attempt to play for England. In the end, he decided it would have been a “big hassle” to take FIFA to court. He also still harboured hopes of earning a Spain call-up at the time.

Who did Mikel Arteta play for?

Mikel Arteta played for Barcelona B, Paris Saint-Germain, Rangers, Real Sociedad, Everton and Arsenal. He also earned caps for Spain at Under-16, Under-17, Under-18 and Under-21 level.

Arteta made 42 appearances for Barcelona B, scoring three goals. He also spent a year on loan at PSG, where he scored five goals in 53 games. Spells at Rangers (14 goals in 68 games) and Real Sociedad (one goal in 17 games) followed before he joined Everton (35 goals in 209 games). The Spaniard finished his playing career at Arsenal, where he scored 16 goals in 150 games.

Realistically, Arteta’s best chance of earning a Spain call-up came during his stints at Everton and Arsenal. Had he been allowed to play for England in 2010, Arteta would have competed for a midfield spot alongside Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick and Steven Gerrard.

Why did Mikel Arteta retire?

Mikel Arteta retired as a footballer at the age of 34 after coming to the realisation that he could no longer perform at the top level. He made his final appearance as an 88th-minute substitute in Arsenal’s 4-0 win against Aston Villa on May 15, 2016.

Arteta struggled with ankle and calf injuries during his final season, restricting him to 14 appearances in all competitions. “I thought for the last few months that I wasn’t good enough to represent this club on the pitch,” Arteta admitted after retiring. Team-mates labelled him “crazy” for hanging up his boots, but he “didn’t want to cheat anyone” by playing past his best years.

Immediately after retiring, Arteta received coaching offers from three Premier League managers: Arsene Wenger (Arsenal), Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham) and Pep Guardiola (Manchester City). He decided to link up with Guardiola at City before returning to Arsenal as the club’s manager in 2019.