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Enforcer. General. Protector. The names of Casemiro and Sergio Busquets perhaps come to mind in the modern game when thinking of such words. Closer to home and it’s Fernandinho or Fabinho. But perhaps none of these midfield bosses will ever make the contribution to the beautiful game that Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira did during his years on the field. He may not have had the most beautiful role on the pitch, but it was certainly a necessary one, and one that was very much appreciated by his teammates over the years.
The youngster kicked his career off on the sunny south coast of France at Cannes, learning his trade at the club who had helped nurture Real Madrid and France legend Zinedine Zidane just a few years prior. Zidane would move on to Bordeaux in 1992, but in came Vieira at just the right time. But the teenager didn’t stay long, with European giants AC Milan swooping in to secure his services.
It was an even shorter stay in Italy, however, with the young midfielder limited to only a handful of appearances as Milan lifted the 1995/96 league title under Fabio Capello. A stern defence saw the club concede just 24 goals in their 34 games, with experienced midfielders Marcel Desailly and Demetrio Albertini unsurprisingly getting the nod ahead of Vieira. But it was still a valuable learning curve, and one that would undoubtedly prove hugely important in the years to come.
Despite spending much of the campaign in the Milan reserve setup, Dutch giants Ajax were reportedly interested in bringing him to Amsterdam. But a certain impending Arsenal manager by the name of Arsene Wenger convinced the midfielder that north London was the place to go. It turned out to be a truly fantastic decision for both player and club, and indeed Wenger himself.
Legendary Gunners status
Nine fruitful years pulling the strings at Arsenal followed, with trophy after trophy epitomising just how much of a serial winner Vieira truly was. It was where he truly made a name for himself, battling it out with the league’s finest players to become one of the main men at Arsenal and indeed one of the finest footballers of his generation. While Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard stole the plaudits for their Premier League goals, it was Patrick Vieira and his old nemesis Roy Keane who kept their sides free from danger by breaking up the play.
The Gunners legend left after 393 appearances, clinching four FA Cups, three Community Shields, and the small matter of three league titles, the last of which saw him play a crucial role in the unforgettable Invincibles season of 2003/04.
It’s easy to forget what he went on to achieve after his time at Highbury, such was his contribution to the club. But both Juventus and Inter Milan were fortunate enough to witness his grace in the middle of the pitch, with the latter snapping him up in 2006 after one season in Turin, in which the Old Lady were stripped of their titles and relegated to Serie B for their role in a match-fixing scandal. Vieira battled through injuries at the San Siro to clinch three successive Serie A titles, and despite Arsenal reportedly keen to re-sign their former star, a surprise swoop from Manchester City saw the veteran move to the Etihad at the beginning of 2010. A quick cameo in the victorious 2011 FA Cup final saw him close the curtain on his career in perfect fashion with yet another well-deserved trophy.
With the likes of Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Emmanuel Petit filling out the midfield in the 1998 World Cup, Patrick Vieira may not have played a major role in the ultimately successful tournament for Les Bleus, but he certainly played his part, with a 20-minute cameo in the final proving he was already an important player for his national side. An assist for club teammate Petit in the dying seconds simply furthered an already glowing reputation.
He came alive just two years later as France continued their domination, with Vieira key as the nation lifted the trophy at Euro 2000. He became a regular on the international scene, and was even handed the armband when regular captain Zidane called time on his international game.
The formidable figure then starred in the 2006 World Cup after a humiliating elimination at the group stages in 2002. As well as crunching tackles and expert passes, goals and assists arrived in Germany, with Raymond Domenech’s men eventually losing out to Italy on penalties in the final. The midfield general retired from the national setup in 2010, with his 107 caps leaving him joint-sixth in France’s all-time list.
In the dugout
Like many of his generation – and indeed his fellow Invincible Henry – Patrick Vieira has made the switch from player to manager. His was a quick transition, immediately taking on a training and youth development role at his former club City. He accepted a role as manager of the reserve team soon after, but the opportunity of senior football management proved too tempting, with Vieira announced as the new head coach of MLS outfit New York City FC in 2016.
The Frenchman led the club to second in the Eastern Conference in his debut campaign, thus securing their first-ever playoff appearance, with NYCFC ultimately going on to finish fourth overall. The following season was regarded as another success as the club secured second spot overall, with Spanish hero David Villa often single-handedly firing the side to the top end of the standings.
But another tantalising offer came in from a part of the world he knew well, with French south coast outfit Nice announcing his appointment in the summer of 2018. A seventh-place finish was secured in his debut campaign back in his homeland, followed by a fifth-place finish in the ultimately shortened, Covid-hit 2019/20 Ligue 1 season.
A return to England?
December 2020 was, however, the end of the road for both parties, with The Eagles sacking the boss after a poor run of results. At the time, the club sat 11th in Ligue 1 and had just crashed out of the Europa League, with the manager’s lack of football philosophy also reportedly a reason behind the decision. But with a handful of Premier League clubs either looking for a new manager or considering bringing in a fresh face, it’s very possible that the France legend could soon be back in England.
His playing performances are, however, certain to be remembered long into the future, regardless of his successes or failures in the dugout. Both Newcastle legend Alan Shearer and former team-mate Thierry Henry recently made their way into the Premier League Hall of Fame, and it won’t be long until Patrick Vieira’s name is included in the prestigious list, such was his contribution to the competition.