Today saw the announcement that former French captain Patrick Vieira will retire from football and take up a role with Manchester City as a football development executive (whatever that is). Even though I was always a Roy Keane fan growing up I always loved when he clashed with Vieira. The two players were fierce warriors and imposing figures on the pitch. The two often dished out some nasty challenges during the game and were never going to give an inch to the other. These days I would have to say, there is nothing that compares to the battles that these two engaged in. I loved it.
Vieira is a legend among the Arsenal faithful and was the leader of the Invincible side that won the 2003-04 season undefeated. He played for 9 seasons with Arsenal. He was one of Arsene Wenger’s first signings when he took over the Gunners. His partnership with fellow Frenchmen Emmanuel Petit formed the bedrock of Arsenal’s initial success. It didn’t take Vieira long to settle in England as his strength and power style of play was well suited to the English game. Vieira arrived at Arsenal after an unsuccessful spell with AC Milan where he only played 2 league matches in his one season there. Before hand he had played for French side Cannes where he captain the side at the age of 19.
Whilst at Arsenal, Vieira would win the League title 3 times, the FA Cup 4 times and the Community Shield 4 times. He was a born leader who’s authority on the pitch was not questioned. He scored the decisive penalty in the final of the 2005 FA Cup in his final season with the Gunners. After that season we moved onto Italy. Playing for Juventus for one season and then Inter Milan after Juventus were demoted to Serie B due to the match fixing scandal that in golfed Italian football in 2006. He would remain with Inter for four seasons winning the Scudetto four seasons in a row and the Coppa Italia once. Half way through the 2009-10 season Vieira would re-join former Inter manager Roberto Mancini at Manchester City. Last season would be Vieira’s last, often playing the substitute role, sent on to add some experience and to help run down the clock or to hold onto a lead. The Frenchmens final appearance was as a sub in the 2010-11 FA Cup final that Man City won 1-0 over Stoke City.
For France, Patrick would win the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship in 2000. He managed to play 107 times for Le Bleus scoring 6 goals. He captain the side a number of times but gave up the Captain’s role after Zinedine Zidane came out of retirement for the 2006 World Cup. After the tournament he would captain France again as they qualified for Euro 2008. But he would not play a part during the Championship due to injury. He was not part of the squad for France’s disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign. His last match for France was in 2009 in a friendly match against Nigeria. After Laurent Blanc was appointed French coach, post World Cup, Vieira announced he was no longer interested playing for France and would be devoting his time to Manchester City.
Arsenal have not won a trophy since Vieira left the club. While their style of play is a joy to watch there have often been accusations against the Gunners that they lack some physicality. This is not something you could say about the Gunners when Vieira was playing for them. His steel in midfield was often the spring board for many Arsenal attacks. While that is missed by the current Arsenal side what I think they miss even more is his leadership. The one thing that Arsene Wenger has never been able to find, in my opinion, is a true leader for his side. Thierry Henry was the captain after the departure of Vieira and was often accused of intimidating his fellow team mates instead of inspiring them. William Gallas was the next player to wear the arm band, but to no success. Now the mantle is currently with Cesc Fabregas who is only 24 years old and is currently attempting to engineer a move to Barcelona. Hardly the figure to inspire the Gunners to the title.
Vieria’s legacy will always be linked to one of the most successful periods in Arsenal’s history. It is no coincidence that they failed to win after he left. He remains a popular figure among the Arsenal faithful and most be among the best foreign stars to play in the English Premier League. Vieira. He came from Senegal. He played for Arsenal.