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Why Xabi Alonso and Mikel Arteta are football’s ultimate star-crossed lovers

The pair grew up dreaming of playing together at Real Sociedad, but instead ended up facing off in the Premier League's most bitter rivalry

As youngsters, Xabi Alonso and Mikel Arteta dreamed of playing alongside each other for Real Sociedad.

And although they each boasted appearances for the Basque giants, the two childhood friends never achieved their ultimate goal of playing alongside each other in midfield.

The two knew each other from a young age and quickly became friends

The two knew each other from a young age and quickly became friends

The two first met when they  joined the Spanish youth side Antiguoko, situated in San Sebastian at the heart of the mountainous Basque Country.

They would often start side-by-side in the centre of midfield; captivating on-lookers with their skill and near-telepathic understanding on the pitch.

As their performances attracted talent scouts, they looked destined to end up playing for their beloved Real Sociedad together.

But fate had other ideas and at the age of 15, Arteta moved away from San Sebastian to join Barcelona’s famed youth academy, leaving Alonso behind.

Despite losing his friend to Catalonia, Xabi followed through with their original plan and moved to San Sebastian not long after.

These two weren’t bad

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These two weren’t bad

After failing to break into Barcelona’s first-team, Arteta earned a move to Rangers following a brief loan spell at Paris Saint-Germain.

Meanwhile, Alonso — who’d established himself as an important part of Sociedad’s midfield — was beginning to attract attention from all over Europe.

Then, in the summer of 2004, the pair were finally reunited at their home club, as Arteta signed for Sociedad in a £3million deal from Rangers.

Speaking to reporters at the time, he said: “It’s a dream to be coming home after so much time away. I’ve been moving around for seven years and I’m delighted to come to Real.”

Moving back home not only fulfilled his childhood dream, but also meant he would get to play alongside his old friend at long last.

But just six weeks into his San Sebastian homecoming, Xabi left to join Liverpool.

Awkward family photos, eh?

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Awkward family photos, eh?

Things quickly turned sour for Arteta thereafter, as he failed to become a regular starter at Sociedad

Understandably frustrated, he sought an early exit and began talking to Everton — who needed a midfielder to replace Thomas Gravesen.

Curious about life on Merseyside, Arteta gave his old friend a call.

“I called and asked Xabi about the city and how he lives and he said he was very happy there,” he said in an interview at the time.

He joined the Toffees soon after and even moved into the flat next door to Alonso, in an apartment overlooking the Mersey.

Suddenly, the two were neighbours again.

“Me and Xabi grew up together, our homes were about three minutes apart,” Arteta said.

“We played together for nine years before I went to Barcelona and he went to Sociedad, and now we are back in the same city but on different sides. It is very strange.”

The two became on-field rivals

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The two became on-field rivals

It didn’t end there.

After years of battling it out at either end of the Merseryside, Arteta joined Arsenal in 2011.

But again, he came agonisingly close to linking up with his old friend as Alonso was once very close to moving to the Emirates.

According to an interview with the Liverpool Echo, the Gunners were just £3million short of buying the midfielder in 2009, eventually missing out when he joined Real Madrid.

He said: “I was really close to Juventus and close to Arsenal, but Liverpool were asking for £18m, and they were both offering just £15m.”

Arteta is now working alongside his childhood hero Pep Guardiola

Arteta is now working alongside his childhood hero Pep Guardiola

The sad truth is, the two friends never played on the same team as each other during their professional careers.

And in 2016, Arteta hung up his boots and joined Pep Guardiola’s backroom staff at Man City, while Alonso left Bayern in 2017 — having won more-or-less everything there is to win, including the World Cup and the Champions League.

But while their playing careers never aligned, there’s still a chance that they’ll one day be reunited as coaches.

Rumour has it the pair could one day link up, with there even being the possibility that Alonso could be tempted to join his old pal at the Emirates following his appointment as the Arsenal manager.

We can only dream.