As youngsters, Xabi Alonso and Mikel Arteta dreamed of playing alongside each other for Real Sociedad.
The two met at the youth side Antiguoko, situated in San Sebastian at the heart of Spain’s 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 at their beloved Sociedad together.
But fate had other ideas.
At the age of 15, Arteta moved away from San Sebastian to join Barcelona’s academy, leaving Alonso and Real Sociedad behind.
Despite losing his friend to Catalonia, Alonso followed through with his plan and joined Sociedad not long after.
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.
Things quickly turned sour for Arteta thereafter, as he failed to become a regular starter in San Sebastian.
Understandably frustrated, he sought an early exit and began talking to Everton, who needed a midfielder to replace Thomas Gravesen.
Intrigued, 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.
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.”
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 £3m 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.”
The sad truth is, the pair 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.
After all, in the summer, Arteta was rumoured to be on the shortlist to become Arsenal’s next manager and it was suggested that Alonso would follow him to North London, presumably as a part of his backroom staff.
Maybe one day, the old friends will be standing on the dugout at Real Sociedad, using their combined knowledge and expertise to help lead their beloved club to glory.
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