We know him as Nice manager throwing around authority at his players. But where did it all start for the Frenchman?
He was first spotted by, who else, but Wenger, back in 1994 when Arsene’s Monaco played Caen. Vieira was just 17-year old at the time, but he dominated Claude Puel, experienced midfielder at the time. As Wenger recalls, he went to Caen’s coach, asking about Vieira and claiming right away that he’ll be great player one day.
He had the charisma as a player, on the pitch but as well off the pitch and overall he was not scared of anybody.
Make no mistake, Wenger’s words came true. Milan came calling and Vieira was in Serie A for 1995/96 season. However, with competition as fierce as it gets, the 18-year old couldn’t find his spot, which made him available for a move in the summer of 1996.
Vieira knew that Wenger would become Arsenal’s manager soon, so he wasted no time and signed for the English side, although Ajax were very close on finishing the deal. Sure enough, in October of 1996, Wenger joined Vieira and the golden era of Arsenal was ready to begin.
Vieira, even though he was only 20-year old at a time adapted very quickly. He became focal point of the midfield and the team simply wasn’t the same when Patrick wasn’t playing. Arsenal was on top of the league by December, but multiple suspensions, including Vieira, which caused controversy managed to pull the team down in terms of result. The team went 4 straight games without a win in February which meant the end of any title hopes they had. Arsenal finished season as 3rd, failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League due to worse goal difference than Newcastle who came up second.
The following season was dream-like for Arsenal. The team managed to win the title, although Vieira himself had some disciplinary problems, which saw him concede two red cards, one against Coventry, and another against Chelsea. This proved to be reoccurring problem later on in his career.
To round up the perfect year, after winning the Premier League in 1998, Vieira was part of World Cup winning squad that summer. He even came on as a substitute in the final and assisted his Arsenal teammate, Emmanuel Petit for the third goal in 3:0 win over Ronaldo’s Brazil.
With two Premier League seasons under his belt, Vieira was now ready to prove he’s among the best. Even though Arsenal failed to defend the league title, Vieira was included in PFA’s Team of the Year.
Vieira was very well liked among fans and the club operatives. David Dein, the man who brought Wenger to Arsenal, once asked Vieira if he could speak some English, to which the big Frenchman responded:
‘Tottenham are s**t’.”
One of a kind.
However, Vieira’s disciplinary issues came to light in 1999/00 season. At the turn of millenium, while Lazio dominated in Italy and Deportivo won their first La Liga title in Spain, Arsenal came up second, 18 points behind dominant Manchester United. Big part of this was Vieira, who got banned for 6 matches after spitting at Neil Ruddock. This incident came after Patrick received a red card for tackle on Di Canio, who was later often associated with fascist and racists fractions while playing for Lazio. This wasn’t the only incident in 2000. Siniša Mihajlović, Lazio’s midfielder racially insulted Vieira in Champions League group match, which the Serbian even admitted later on. As you can assume, the fine was almost symbolic, handing the Serbian embarrassing two match ban.
Vieira was, of course, integral part of the “Invincibles”. However, famous 2003/04 season didn’t start perfectly for the Frenchman. He was red-carded in a season-opener against Manchester United and fined £20.000 subsequently. To make things worse, he was soon injured, facing two-month recovery, after which Vieira was integral part of the legendary Arsenal season. The Frenchman even scored the winner in the final match of the season against Leicester.
To prove just how highly Vieira was regarded at the time, we can just take a look at Real Madrid president elections in 2004. Perez wanted to sign him badly, and even said:
I must repeat that my policy is to try to sign the best player in the world in every position where we do not already have that. Patrick Vieira is, in my opinion, the best in the world in his position.
Even thought the representatives of both sides even met, Vieira’s relationship with Wenger proved to be too strong at the time, so he decided to stay loyal. He was involved in infamous tunnel bust-up with Roy Keane in 2005, and you can watch some of friendly discussion here:
Arsenal and United clashes at the beginning of the century were legendary, and Keane and Vieira were focal point of it. Schmeichel even said:
“I used to look forward to playing him because he made every one of us raise our game. Arsenal had a great side, but I firmly believe without him they would’ve been 25 per cent weaker.”
Vieira’s biggest rival, Roy Keane, respected him as much as anyone, putting him alongside Scholes, Gerrard, Zidane and Lampard as the best players he ever played against. No wonder Keane respected Vieira, they both shared the same cliché alert winning mentality, and, as Americans would say, real recognizes real.
It was Vieira’s last league title at Highbury, as the following seasons brought them only FA Cup trophy in 2005, where Vieira scored the final penalty kick in the shoot-out. That proved to be the last shot he’ll ever take as an Arsenal player, as he signed with Juventus in the summer of 2005.
Faith played with Vieira in 2006. Juventus was steamrolling to the league title, and CL draw brought them who else but – Arsenal. To give some background, Vieira was moved out of the club mostly to accommodate rising star in Cesc Fabregas. So, when Pires tackled Vieira hard and the Frenchman came down, it was disastrous for him to see Fabregas out of all people scoring a goal from his loss ball. The fact that Vieira earned a yellow card and was suspended for the second leg didn’t help either.
After Calciopoli scandal, Juventus were relegated to Serie B. Among the exodus of superstars, Vieira was no exception, as he moved to inter in the summer of 2006.
Vieira won a lot at Inter, including three league titles in a row, but wasn’t important part of that team. Due to various injuries and younger midfielders taking his spot, Patrick “only” played 91 match in all competitions scoring 9 goals and receiving three red cards. Even so, he was very-well respected. He and Ibrahimović moved from Juve to Inter the same season after having a serious bust-up in training back in Inter. However, Zlatan only had words of praise after their partnership was over
“We both had that winners’ mindset… If anyone knew that, it was Patrick Vieira. He’s the type who gives one hundred percent in every situation, and I saw how he boosted the entire team. There aren’t many football players I have that kind of respect for.”
Mourinho decided that Vieira wasn’t part of his plans in January of 2010. He then moved to Manchester City, offering some good roles of the bench and playing important part in mentoring younger players.
All in all, Vieira is considered to be one of the most important players of late 90s and early 2000s, as he possessed rare combination of technique and strength. In terms of comparison, try to imagine Pogba with better work ethic, focus and leadership. While he was known for lack of discipline red cards, he was also known as the perfect leader and someone who teammates can rely on at all times, which is why his team always got his back.