“I prefer to stay at home instead with Antiguoko.”
Those were the words of a 16-year-old Xabi Alonso when he was informed that Athletic Bilbao wanted to sign the budding midfielder for their famed Lezama academy.
Several years earlier, Alonso’s then teammate Mikel Arteta made the same decision.
While Irish football fans like to claim that Alonso honed his craft during a summer spent in Kells around the same time, it was the amateur Gipuzkoan club of Antiguoko which developed the Spaniard into one of the finest midfielders of his generation.
Formed in 1982, Antiguoko is located in the northern beaches of San Sebastian in the north of Spain. It is located around a kilometer-and-a-half from the beach and has just one pitch to play on, which often has to be shared with other clubs, with coaches often using the proximity of the beach to play football on the sand.
The Basque club serves as a feeder club to Real Sociedad, and has developed talents such as the Alonso brothers, Arteta, Andoni Iraola, Imanol Agirretxe Arruti and Aritz Aduriz to name but a few.
Early years at Antiguoko
When close childhood friends Alonso and Arteta kicked the ball around at the beaches at Playa de la Concha and envisioned sharing a pitch together as adults, they didn’t anticipate that it would be on opposite sides of the Merseyside derby.
Instead, the Spanish midfielders grew up dreaming of representing Sociedad, where Alonso’s father Miguel (or ‘Periko’) won two La Liga titles in the 1980s. A Spanish international, Miguel also tasted La Liga success with Barcelona later in his career.
The first step towards achieving their footballing dreams was to join local club Antiguoko.
Mikel – the older of the Alonso brothers by a year – joined Antiguoko as a 10-year-old, and brought Xabi along to training.
Arteta, three months Xabi’s junior, joined the club around the same time.
“He has since sent me shirts from every club he has been at. When he was at Everton he sent training gear for all the coaches here. Of all the ex-players he is one of those who has given back the most.”ANTIGUOKO COACH ROBERTO MONTIEL ON MIKEL ARTETA.
Unsurprisingly, the two locals formed a formidable midfield partnership for the club.
As mentioned above, the trio weren’t the only staggeringly talented players at the San Sebastian club in the 1990s.
Their Antiguoko teammate Iriola eventually traded moved to Lezama in 1999, and went on to play 510 competitive matches over 12 seasons for Bilbao.
The right back played for Spain seven times, and spent two years in the MLS with New York City before retiring in 2016.
Agirretxe Arruti, a striker, spent his entire career at Sociedad.
He plundered 75 goals in a total of 273 appearances for the Basque club in a career spanning 14 years, before injury forced a premature retirement in 2018 at the age of 31.
Aduriz, on the other hand, was somewhat of a late bloomer.
The veteran forward, who still produces the goods on a regular basis for Bilbao, eventually joined Segunda División club Aurrerá de Vitoria.
A two-goal haul at Lezama earned him a move to Bilbao at the age of 19, and made his senior debut for the club two years later.
The 35-year-old striker has gone on to enjoy a long and successful career, the majority of which has been spent with Bilbao. Last August, he equaled Lionel Messi’s record of scoring in 15 consecutive La Liga seasons.
He has won 13 international caps, and has scored 172 goals in 403 appearances for Bilbao.
Xabi and the two Mikels
Despite their best intentions, Xabi and Arteta’s time at Antiguoko was to be the only time the Calle Matia friends played together at club level.
It wasn’t long before the scouts found the teenagers, and professional clubs came knocking.
Having previously rejected Bilbao, Arteta could not resist the lure of Barcelona, who came knocking when he was 15.
One of his first actions at his new club was to have 25 training tops sent to his old coach Roberto Montiel at Antiguoko.
Ironically, Arteta went on to replace a certain Pep Guardiola off the bench on his debut for the club’s reserves.
First team opportunities proved scarce at Camp Nou, with Arteta eventually joining Rangers in 2002 for £6 million after a successful loan spell at Paris-Saint Germain.
Arteta shone in Scotland, and earned a move to Sociedad for around £3 million in the summer of 2004.
The childhood dream he shared with Xabi, forged on the streets of San Sebastian, had become a reality. However, it was to last just six weeks, with Liverpool agreeing a £10.7 million deal to bring Alonso to Anfield.
Within a year of returning from his summer learning English in County Meath – and rejecting Basque neighbours Bilbao – Xabi had emulated his brother by joining Sociedad.
Mikel had joined the La Liga club a year earlier, and Xabi followed suit, becoming the third male in the immediate Alonso family to don the club’s colours.
The younger Alonso brother made his first team debut for Sociedad at 18, and was named club captain two years later by manager John Toshack, who replaced Xabi’s father Miguel after ‘Periko’s’ brief stint as manager.
By the time Arteta arrived, Xabi had amassed 124 appearances for Sociedad, scored 10 goals, and played a crucial role in the club’s title tilt in the 2002/03 season, when they finished two points behind champions Real Madrid.
In 2003, the classy midfielder was named Spanish Player of the Year.
Just after Arteta’s arrival, Alonso moved to Merseyside to join Rafa Benitez’ Reds.
When Arteta arrived to the English city the following January, he moved in next door to his former Antiguoko teammate, now his domestic rival.
Alonso would go on to win the Champions League with the Reds in his first season, scoring the all-important equalizer against AC Milan in the final, as well as an FA Cup in 2006.
The Spain international made 210 appearances for Liverpool over five seasons, scoring 19 goals and establishing himself as one of Europe’s leading holding midfielders.
At international level, he was a key cog in the greatest Spain team of all time, winning two European Championships and the World Cup in a wildly successful four-year spell.
Alonso racked up 114 international caps, notching 16 goals for his country.
In 2009, Alonso moved to Real Madrid for £30 million, where he further cemented his status as one of the great modern midfielders.
His five-year spell in the Spanish capital yielded one La Liga title, one Champions League, two Copa del Reys and one Spanish Super Cup.
In 2014, Alonso was sold by Madrid to German giants Bayern Munich on a two-year deal, where he promptly broke the record for most passes completed in a Bundesliga game. He made 117 appearances in three seasons at the club, winning three Bundesliga titles, a DFK Pokal and one German Super Cup.
While Xabi was still at Liverpool, Arteta became a cult hero on the other side of Stanley Park, making 209 appearances and scoring 35 goals for the Toffees across eight seasons.
The Spaniard joined Arsenal in August 2011 on a four-year deal for a reported fee of £10 million, and was eventually named club captain at the Emirates.
He won two FA Cups and two Community Shields under Arsene Wenger in North London, before retiring at the end of the 2015/16 season.
Quite a ride for the two San Sebastian dreamers.
And what of the other Mikel, Xabi’s older brother?
After making his Sociedad debut in 2001, the midfielder went on to make 104 appearances for the club.
A season-long loan spell at Bolton in 2007, in which he made just seven appearances, gave him a taste of English football.
He joined Tenerife in 2009, making 66 appearances for the club before a hugely unsuccessful switch to Charlton two years later.
Mikel failed to make a single appearance in the league for the English club, and returned to Spain to join Real Unión in Segunda División B.
After 117 appearances (and seven goals) over four years for the Spanish club, Mikel announced his retirement in 2018.
A new wave of coaches
Antiguoko means ‘antique’ in Spanish, but the club can now also boast a new wave of coaches.
Arteta has become the manager of Arsenal, Alonso coaches the Real Sociedad second team, Iraola manages Cypriot side Mirandés.
Fellow Antiguoko graduate Beñat San José, whose career was cut short at 23 due to injury, is currently in charge of KAS Eupen, having coached in the Middle East and South America before moving back to European football.
Iban Fagoaga, who was an Eibar player for seven seasons, manages CD Vitoria.
Like a number of their former teammates, Arteta and Alonso transitioned from the pitch to the dugout practically immediately.
As Pep’s assistant at Premier League champions Manchester City, Arteta had been soaking up knowledge from one of football’s greatest minds before the opportunity to replace Unai Emery at the Emirates arose.
Alonso took charge of the Real Madrid under-14 team before moving back to San Sebastian to take over Sociedad’s second team.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest his current role is a stepping stone to the first team job.
Not bad for a couple of kids from Antiguoko.