We sat down with Premier League boss and official Soccer Manager 2024 ambassador, Mikel Arteta who picked a stupendously talented side.
Everyone who dusts down their creaky boots and creakier limbs on a weekday evening to play five-a-side has a vision of an ideal team in their hearts.
Players that pass and move, letting the ball do all the work and not exposing your smoker’s lungs. One man mountain in defence, who foils attacks with his sheer heft and leaves callow opponents wishing they’d stayed home to watch EastEnders.
Every team needs a wily customer, a veteran of the PowerLeague circuit who knows the exact angle of the cage to bounce the ball to provide a Messi-esque assist.
This guy is usually the talker, bellowing at team-mates to track their men and insisting it’s still 0-0 even if the opposition have racked up double figures.
And you need a goalie. The difference between having a proper shot-stopper or some quivering youth with bare hands between the sticks is often the difference between victory and defeat.
But how would an actual manager approach this national pastime? We sat down with Premier League boss and official Soccer Manager 2024 ambassador Mikel Arteta to build his ideal five-a-side team and were tickled that he ignored most of the nonsense above.
“The No.1 and I didn’t play with him or manage, it would have to be Leo Messi,” Arteta began.
“That’s for sure because he’s been in my opinion the most influential player ever in the history of football. We’ve never seen someone do what he has done on the pitch for that many years.
“Then with Ronaldo I would do the same thing and I would put the other [Brazilian] Ronaldo because since I was a kid I was in love with him,” he continued. Just imagine turning up on a Thursday evening and being faced with those three. Without a spare pair of shorts.
Arteta’s love of Ronaldo has its origins in his upbringing in San Sebastian, falling in love with the player when he signed for Barcelona in the 1990s.
“The first one was Romario,” the 41-year-old said when asked about the transfers that excited him as a child. “When Barcelona signed Romario from PSV I was looking at videos of him and it was incredible.
“Then it was Ronaldo and Rivaldo. They were the first three top, top signings that I remember. It was incredible, trying to find where the pre-games were going to be so I could watch them. It was great.”
Turning his attention back to the task in hand, Arteta said: “Then I would put Johan Cruyff there for sure because of his intelligence and what he did for the game and they are all attacking players.”
Speaking to F365 yesterday, he expanded on Cruyff’s influence and said: “He was a massive figure because from the day I arrived at Barcelona he was the one we all looked at and got inspired by.”
Completing his line-up, Arteta said: “But the other one I have to do is Maradona because of my family and the Argentinian origin I have as well because of my wife. The way he transformed football and Barcelona during that period, he has to be there.
“No defenders! We don’t have goalkeepers, it’s five-a-side. No goalies.
“If it’s six-a-side then I have to go for a friend, Pepe Reina. I’ve played with him since I was 16 years old in Barcelona and now, last week, he became the Spanish player with the most European caps in our history.
“He’s 41 and still playing. An amazing career.”
Messi, Cruyff, Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Maradona and… Reina. Yikes. A few years back, my own matches were filmed by the Manchester Student League and posted on YouTube, presumably to provide the tools for self-torture.
Even against pint merchants and those with diets that’d make a scurvy-ridden sailor beg for a green vegetable, I looked like I was running through treacle with the mobility of a sloth superglued to his branch.
But playing against Arteta’s lot? That’d turn some of the game’s legends into a similar state. Good work, Mikel.
By Charles Watts and Michael Lee
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