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Saturday 26 February 2005 at Villa Park. This is a day that will always mean a great deal to me. It was the first time I had ever seen Everton win at Aston Villa. It is also still the best performance I have ever seen from an Everton side, we were an absolute joy to watch that day. But for me, it was the day that I fell in love with Mikel Arteta.
I had been at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium three weeks before to see his debut. A friend of mine is a big Rangers fan and he had told me all about him. I can remember seeing bits of him when he was up in Scotland, but I didn’t know a great deal. The fact he had spent two years in the SPL was of instant benefit to him in the rough and tumble of the Premier League. He fitted in like he had always been here and brought a calming influence to the side. He made a huge impact in those last few months of the season and the only real surprise about his permanent signing in the summer was the fact it was for only £2.5million!
In his first full season, he scored some vital goals, the one in Villarreal being the highlight and his influence on the team was there for all to see, despite it not being the best of seasons on the pitch.
However, it was from 2006/07 where he was just sensational in my eyes. There were times during that season where he was simply unplayable, either playing in the middle or on the right hand side. His goal against Bolton at Goodison stands out and is an example of a player playing with supreme confidence, going past three or four players before smashing one in the top corner with their weaker foot. It was no surprise to anyone that he won the Player of the Year award with ease.
In 2007/08, Arteta carried on where he had left off the previous season. His goal in Nurnberg is a personal highlight, but the way the midfield worked with Lee Carsley doing his defensive job, allowing Mikel the freedom to dominate play, resulted in some superb performances. The Sunderland 7-1 stands out, but my highlight of that day came in the tunnel before the game. Mikel had been voted our supporters club Player of the Year for the previous season and we did the presentation before the game. I had an Arteta shirt to get signed and being all flustered, I had misplaced my marker pen (it was in my back pocket!). After searching for it, Mikel just said “hang on” and disappeared. He went into the dressing room to get a pen, came back out, signed my shirt, called me an idiot and shook my hand! My first real insight into what a lovely man he is as well!
He was again voted Player of the Year for 2007/08, but the six month spell he had in 2008/09 was probably his best in a blue shirt, he was simply awesome! We didn’t start off that well, but Arteta seemed to be the one bright spot. In terms of goals, the free-kick against Hull was stunning and his performances in the triple header against Liverpool were superb. He played a staring role in the FA Cup win over Aston Villa, getting a vital goal, before his season was ended at Newcastle the following week. I can remember sitting in St James Park and as soon as he went down, I just said “cruciate”. We wouldn’t see him again for 11 months.
The fact that the team was able to finish that season the way they did is a testament to them. Seeing Mikel at Wembley in his suit was horrible. If anyone deserved to be on that pitch for those games it was him. That he will not be able to do that again is a great shame. It was revealed after his injury that he had been told he was being called up to the Spanish squad for their next friendly. It just about summed things up.
Three operations later and he made his comeback with a substitute appearance against Birmingham. The cheer that greeted his appearance was spine tingling. His first two goals since injury against Hull were just as spine tingling. It was nice to see the smile back on the little mans face.
In August 2009, Everton travelled to Wolfsburg for a friendly. Unknown to us, we ended up staying in the same hotel as the team. Upon their arrival, the players were superb with us all. As I was having my picture taken with David Moyes, Mikel walked past us. I shouted after him and proceeded to get ‘the eyes’ from the manager. I quickly apologised and had the picture, before turning around after Mikel. In the picture of me and Moyes, Arteta is stood patiently waiting for me and he duly had his picture with myself and everyone else. Once again, he was the perfect gentleman, as he has been on all the occasions I’ve been lucky enough to meet him. The following morning in the hotel, he signed his new contract. It was almost the perfect weekend!
In his last season with us, he had his ups and downs, but once fully fit, he was almost back to his impervious best. The spell he had prior to the hamstring injury he picked up in March was sensational, especially up at Newcastle, the first time he had been back at the scene of the injury. The highlight for me was his Derby goal. I’m just glad that he got himself into Derby folklore, he deserved that.
For the first time in a long time, there was virtually no talk over his future all summer until the bombshell of transfer deadline day. I have no problem with him going, it is a great opportunity for him and he has given our club absolutely everything over the past six and a half years. I’ve not felt this bad about a player leaving since Duncan went to Newcastle, it’s a hard one to take. As Mikel himself said “there is always a start and an end and today is the end of probably the best time of my career. I am never going to forget it.”
It was a fitting end that he scored on his last Goodison appearance and his last kick of the ball in an Everton shirt was to get a vital three points for the side.
I’m 29 and in my eyes, Mikel Arteta is the best player I have ever seen in an Everton shirt. Technically, he is something special and he has given me some incredible memories on and off the pitch. I don’t have a bad word to say about the man and I wish him nothing but success for the rest of his career. As the song goes “there’s nobody better” and for me there isn’t.
As he himself said “Arsenal is my new club, Everton is my family” kind of says everything, but the thing that got me was “the fact that those people are going to remember me and they say they are going to miss me loads, that means more than any other thing”
Mikel Arteta, thank you for everything you have given Everton Football Club. You have become one of us and that is something I will always be grateful for.
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