Bournemouth and Arsenal managers grew up playing for remarkable club that has produced a dazzling array of talent

The first time Mikel Arteta and Andoni Iraola left Spain they did so together, on a bus bound for the Netherlands. It was the summer of 1994, they were 12 years old and crossing the border with them were a dozen or so other boys and their families. They had 20 long hours ahead, but no one cared: those were the best of times and it is the trips the kids remember most fondly, a pioneering neighbourhood football team travelling to Italy, Sweden, France, even Mexico. Where, usually, they won.

Almost 30 years later, now coaches at Arsenal and Bournemouth, Arteta and Iraola meet at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday. Born less than three months and six miles apart, they have played 1,206 professional games and coached 408 more across six countries but this is the first time football has brought them together since a Spain Under-21 international in Almendralejo 20 years ago, and only the second since they were teammates in San Sebastián, training on a concrete playground at the seminary and competing on the gravel pitches of Berio for Antiguoko Kirol Elkartea.

Continue reading...