Arteta is said to be a preferred candidate of frontrunner Joan Laporta
By rights links with the Barcelona job ought to be cause for great pride in Mikel Arteta’s household. It could be the perfect story. Having begun his playing career that began in the Barcelona B team without being able to find a place in the senior setup, no cause for shame when competing with the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, he might finally get his chance at the Nou Camp proper, this time in the dugout.
Never mind that Ronald Koeman is currently in the job and that domestically at least his side are ticking up, second to Atletico Madrid in La Liga albeit with their Champions League fate hanging by a thread. It is election season in Barcelona and that means it is a time to pledge upgrades on the pitch and in the technical area despite the financial mess that has engulfed the club.
Reports in Spain say that Joan Laporta, the favorite ahead of Sunday’s vote, has identified Arteta as the man to take the helm. The Arsenal boss is a disciple of Pep Guardiola and despite occasional struggles appears to be on the way to righting the sinking ship in north London, even if the 2020 FA Cup winner would insist there is plenty of work left to be done.
For that reason Arteta insisted today that he was not even considering the prospect of returning to Spain.
„There is always going to be speculation when there are elections in Barcelona,“ he said. „It’s a huge team. Obviously I was raised there as a player and they’re always going to be linked.
„I’m fully focused on the job that I have to do here, and we have a lot to do. I’m really enjoying it.“
If a smile broke across Arteta’s face it was at the job he was „enjoying“ at Arsenal rather than any links with Barcelona.
Even when it was put to him that one day taking the helm at the Nou Camp might be something to aspire to, the Spaniard was loath to offer the slightest scintilla of a hint of an indication that he might ever be pried away from Arsenal.
„Today and tomorrow, I am the manager of Arsenal Football Club, and I’m really enjoying it,“ he said. „I want to do much better than what we’ve done.“
Words are wind and yet after years of seeing their best and brightest flutter their eyes in the direction of Catalonia it must be no little cause for relief to Arsenal that Arteta is not so keen to encourage any public courting from presidential candidates.
He is wise to do so. The Barcelona job looks to be a poisoned chalice. Whoever succeeds Koeman may well have to deal with the fall out of the end of the Lionel Messi age with the Argentine out of contract at the end of the season. No decision has been made over whether he will stay in Spain but the meagre display in the Champions League round of 16 first leg defeat to Paris Saint-Germain heightened the sense that even the greatest player of his generation can only carry his team-mates so far.
Arteta or any other Barcelona manager from next season on might not have Messi but he will still have a bloated wage bill and an ageing squad. It would no doubt be tempting to bring the best out of Ansu Fati and Pedri, perhaps less so to work out how to manage the decline of club icons such as Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets.
In many ways Arteta would inherit a similar situation to that which he came into at Arsenal: a clutch of promising youngsters, a string of veterans with mixed records of success and a chasm of quality in between. This time he would get to do the same job but with the stakes raised incalculably higher, at a club where there seems to be no tacit acceptance that someone needs to tear this structure down and start anew as there is at the Emirates Stadium.
Arteta might get a rebuilding job but it would be the sort where he would also be expected to compete for Spain and Europe’s top honours. He need only observe what being Barcelona manager has done for the European standing of Tata Martino and Quique Setien, even to an extent Ernesto Valverde, a man who won two league titles, averaged 2.2 points per game losing only 16 of 145 matches and found himself kicked to the curb in January 2020.
For a rookie manager the task at Arsenal seems daunting in the extreme: create a winning culture, rebalance the wage bill and get them back to the Champions League. It is nothing compared to what awaits whoever might succeed Koeman at Barcelona. Arteta is wise to steer clear.