Mikel Arteta first caught Ronald de Boer’s eye when PSG played against Rangers in a UEFA Cup tie in December, 2001.
The following season, they became team-mates at Ibrox, and the experienced Dutchman took the talented Spaniard under his wing, guiding him on and off the park.
De Boer sensed Arteta had a bright future at the highest level of the game, both as a player and a coach.
On both counts, the former Ajax and Barcelona star has so far been proved correct.
Now de Boer will be an interested onlooker after Arteta was named Unai Emery’s successor as manager of Arsenal.
But he has warned that the Gunners job is one of the most-difficult in British football, and that Arteta is unlikely to find it straightforward.
De Boer told The Sunday Post: “Mikel made an instant impression on me when we first crossed paths on opposite sides of that European tie.
“I can’t believe it was almost 20 years ago!
“PSG had an excellent side, and their squad contained the likes of Ronaldinho, Nicolas Anelka, Gabriel Heinze, Jay Jay Okocha and Mauricio Pochettino, who recently lost his post as Tottenham manager.
“Yet we managed to beat them on penalty-kicks in Paris.
“It was an incredible result and was to be Dick Advocaat’s farewell before Alex McLeish arrived to take over.
“Mikel was on loan to PSG from Barcelona when we played them.
“Within three months, he was a Rangers player.
“It was an incredible signing and I don’t think too many people appreciated just what a coup it was for us to land a player of his talent.
“Mikel had an old head on young shoulders. I think he was just coming up for 20 at that time, but he played with the maturity and tactical discipline of a 30-year-old.
“From my own time at Barca, I could speak Spanish. So there was a natural coming together between Mikel and I.
“We spent lot of time together. I became a father figure to him.
“His eyes were always opened and he was always prepared to listen. He wanted to learn.
“Some days we would spend hour after hour, talking about the game over coffee.
“You can never be certain, but I did get a feeling – even back then when he was so young – that he had a desire to get into coaching.
“That has turned out to be the case.”
De Boer and Arteta tasted silverware in their time together at Rangers.
In season 2002-03, they helped beat Celtic in the League Cup Final.
Then a few weeks later, Arteta enjoyed his biggest day with the Ibrox club, scoring a crucial late penalty against Dunfermline that snatched the league title from Celtic’s grasp in dramatic fashion.
At the end of the following campaign, de Boer left Rangers to play in the Middle East, but he did so with some advice for his former employers.
“I told the club to look after Mikel and work closely with him because they had a rough diamond. They had to polish him up a little bit to make him shine.
“Soon after that, he too had left, back to his hometown club, Real Sociedad in San Sebastian.
“He then went on to have a great career at Everton and Arsenal. He became captain at the latter and showed he was a leader.
“That’s when you know you have the qualities to go into coaching and management.
“After an excellent learning curve at Manchester City as an assistant to Pep Guardiola, he is now going back to Arsenal.
“They are a massive football club, but have lost a little bit of direction and power in the past two or three years.
“Mikel may well be the very man to bring it all back. I hope he manages to do it.
“But it is a risk for him. This is a little bit dangerous.
“All credit to him, though, for going for it. He will have done his homework and feel he is ready to make an impact in a positive way.
“He has been interviewed at length by the Arsenal hierarchy, but he will also have made sure he liked the answers to the many questions he would have had for them.
“The process will have been a two-way street.”
Arteta arrives at The Emirates with an endorsement from Pep Guardiola.
He has been the Manchester City head coach’s right-hand man for two seasons, and will have learned plenty.
De Boer – who has been in Doha for the World Club Cup – continued: “Pep is one of the very best. He has been at the highest level of coaching and management for a decade.
“Mikel has had the perfect preparation for making the transition from being an assistant to becoming the main man.
“However, it is a massive jump. I’m not saying being an assistant is easy, but it is a different ball game from being the boss.
“You have all the stress that comes with being the No.1 man at the club, from picking the team, the formation, and dealing with the different egos and moods in the dressing room, to handling the media and the boardroom.
“It’s not the kind of role that is for everyone. It is becoming more and more demanding, day by day, especially in the modern game.
“It will also become very lonely. All managers will tell you that. Lose two or three games and you feel isolated.
“Mikel needs to make sure he has a good support network around him, people he can trust and also people who will be truthful with him.
“So, I wish him well. He deserves success in his new role.
“I have a lot of time for Mikel as a person. He has integrity and honour.
“I believe he can be very successful at Arsenal, and get them back as a regular top-four force in England.
“But he will need to be given the proper time. It might take four or five transfer windows to get it to the level he wants.”
Arsenal, like Rangers and Ajax, are also in the last 32 of the Europa League.
It could well be that de Boer could see a last-16 draw of the Gunners versus Rangers, or Steven Gerrard taking his squad to play in the Amsterdam Arena.
Of course, they’ll have to get past Braga in the next round, and de Boer believes that it is possible.
He said: “Rangers performed very well to get through the group stages. They played well home and away against Feyenoord. They are in good shape.
“It’s been a long, and sometimes very painful, road back for Rangers but they are getting there.
“Great progress has been made under Steven Gerrard. The next step is winning a Cup, or winning the League in May.
“Celtic are a major force but they are not unstoppable.
“Beating Braga also has to be an objective. I’m not saying it will be easy but it is not a tie they should be fearing.
“They would then be in the last 16 of the tournament and they could get a really mouthwatering tie – Arsenal or Ajax would be unbelievable.
“Let’s wait and see what the next two or three months brings for everyone at Rangers. There are exciting times ahead but also very crucial times.
“But the manager and the players have the mentality to stand up to the challenges.”
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