Arsenal - Patrick Vieira: A Tribute
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Patrick Vieira: A Tribute

Today, Patrick Vieira announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 35. Vieira is a winner of three Premier League titles, five F.A. Cups, 4 Serie A Titles, 2 Supercoppa Italianas, 1 FIFA World Cup and 1 UEFA European Championship. He also has five cats apparently (!) He made 406 appearances for Arsenal between 1996-2005, scoring 49 goals, accumulating 11 red cards and captaining the side for three of the most successful seasons in the club`s history.

That doesn`t so much constitute an introduction as an entire article. Those are the facts of a glittering football career. They don`t need much decoration. But I`ll try anyway. Patrick Vieira would, in all probability, make an all time Arsenal XI for Arsenal fans of any age or vintage. Whilst Anders Limpar is my favourite ever player for sentimental reasons, Vieira is the symbol of my time as an Arsenal fan. He joined the club when I was 12 and left it when I was 21. He was present during the years that I was formulating an understanding of the game of football and of my club. He was a behemoth, the coat peg upon which I hung my club allegiance for many years. There was a time when I felt like he carried the entire club onto his broad, African build.

What made Vieira such a special player to me, was that he had the perfect blend of qualities. I recall the man himself once saying in an interview with the club magazine in 2003, that his multiculturalism informed his ability. He had French feet, but played with an African heart. I`m frustrated that he is remembered so incompletely. Whilst he was an impressive and fearless warrior, he had faultless technique- which seldom goes credited. Cast your mind back, how many times did he flick the ball over the head of a bemused opponent in the centre circle, before catching the airborne ball on his toe and sauntering off, his opponent left like a dog chasing its tail? With his bow feet, his passing was precise, his tackling fierce but accurate.

With his litany of red cards, there are many that counter that he was a dirty player. He wasn`t. How many of his red cards were for serious foul play? How many for two footed challenges? How many opponents left reeling on the turf in agony? Most of his offences were for acts of petulance or retaliation. Vieira came to Arsenal a gangly, but impressive midfielder, quietly honing his craft under the watchful eye of the likes of Adams, Winterburn, Wright, Dixon, Keown and Bould. As those Arsenal soldiers fell to age, Vieira blossomed into the fierce heartbeat of a great side. The chrysalis from wide eyed, awkward limbed young midfielder into the team`s unafraid beating heart was a beautiful transformation to see. He began his Arsenal career with an awe inspiring debut against Sheffield Wednesday. He ended it snarling into Gary Neville`s face, ("If you want to kick him (Reyes), you`re gonna have to kick me first!" in the Highbury tunnel, Feb 05) and smashing home a winning spot kick in an F.A. Cup Final.

Patrick was born in the city of Dakar in Senegal in August 1976. He moved to France when he was 8 years old. His father, by now estranged, had served in the French army, which granted him citizenship. Vieira showed talent as a footballer and joined Cannes` Youth Academy at the age of 13. By age 17 he was a regular. By 19, he was captain. This is when he was first spotted by Monaco manager Arsene Wenger. Vieira dominated Wenger`s Monaco midfield with a special performance at the age of 18. Wenger never forgot that midfield display. By 19, A.C. Milan had noted his talents and snapped him up in 1995. But the three foreigners rule still operated in Italy at the time. With Desailly, Boban and Weah still very much in their prime, Vieira was left to corrode in the reserves. By August 1996, Arsene Wenger had agreed to take over as manager of Arsenal. In one of his first phone calls with his new bosses, Arsene asked Arsenal to purchase a young French midfielder from A.C. Milan`s reserves.

He made his debut against Sheffield Wednesday in September 1996, coming on as a first half substitute for Ray Parlour. Arsenal were 1-0 down and performing miserably. Vieira upped the tempo and turned the game, his gangly limbs foxing the Owls midfield. By the end of the match, Wright had bagged a hat trick and Arsenal had won 4-1. But the crowd had no doubts who the star of the show was. Vieira says it was a fine induction into life at Arsenal. "I saw at first hand the passion of this Arsenal side when Wrighty grabbed his hat trick."

Vieira continued to shine throughout his debut season. I recall a match against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park, when he had been asked to fill in at centre half while Steve Bould was administered with stitches. Vieira picked the ball up from centre half, slalomed the length of the pitch before slotting Ian Wright through on goal. We knew we had the complete midfielder. In the summer of 1997, Arsene Wenger bought pony tailed French centre half Emmanuel Petit from Monaco. The concoction was explosive. With Petit deferred to a cultured, midfield sitting role that combined his defensive acumen with his cultured passing range, he and Vieira formed a symbiotic partnership that was the perfect concerto of string and brass.

Arsenal and Vieira enjoyed an incredible season in 1997-98, with the Gunners winning the 'Double.` Who could forget Vieira`s lolloping run and 30 yard smash into the roof of the net against Newcastle? "I was delighted because I had proved myself. Winning the title for the first time is always the most precious experience." Though there were too many examples of his petulant streak- a needless off the ball kick to Ian Pearce`s backside, the handball and subsequent torrent of abuse to referee Steve Lodge that saw him sent off at Coventry- he produced a fabulous season. That summer he topped it all off by winning the World Cup with France, setting up his comrade Emmanuel Petit for the third goal in the World Cup Final.

Vieira continued to blossom onto a warrior of a midfielder, just as capable of weaving his way through a web of opposing midfielders with a deft feint as he was to hare 40 yards downfield to retrieve possession with a perfect tackle. As Arsenal and United duelled for supremacy at the top table of English football, Vieira became embroiled in the Premier League`s most absorbing sporting rivalry. Vieira and Keane were two winners, two battlers, men who took defeat as a personal affront, that would lock horns at the highest level of the game. (Literally at times). It was pure theatre and the sort of sporting rivalry that should be cherished by all football fans. Marked by animosity, engendered by respect. The fact that United fans still sing about Vieira in unflattering terms shows the extent to which he was considered our great gladiator. He was becoming the symbol of this Arsenal team.

He would miss the crucial penalty in the 2000 UEFA Cup Final defeat to Galatasaray and would endure further heartbreak in Cardiff a year later when Arsenal somehow tossed away the F.A. Cup Final against Liverpool. (Steven Gerrard was moved to say in his post match interview; "I learned a lot today. Mainly that Patrick Vieira is much better than me.") Though he tasted international success in the summer of 2000, winning the Euros with a blossoming French side. By now, Petit had left and Arsenal were looking like perennial bridesmaids. He had begun to consider his future, with the vultures at Madrid lurking. But Wenger handed him the vice captaincy in close season 2001, with Adams on his last legs. Arsenal and Vieira redoubled their desire and won the Double again in 2001-02. Vieira captained the side as they clinched the title at Old Trafford, putting in the sort of midfield display that had even the great Roy Keane swinging at thin air. It was majestic, it was aggressive but controlled, it was technically executed to a tee. It was pure Vieira.

With Adams` retirement in 2002, Vieira was appointed captain on a full time basis. He began to flourish. I recall an F.A. Cup replay at Stamford Bridge. Vieira took to the pitch, his knee heavily strapped and his face anguished. He was clearly unfit. Within fifteen minutes he`d scored one goal and set our other up as he propelled the team almost single handedly into a two goal lead. There was a point in the second half when three Chelsea players chased him from one touchline to the other. Vieira didn`t surrender the ball. At full time, after a satisfying 3-1 win, Vieira came over to salute us in the Matthew Harding Stand. By now, he could barely even walk. Four days later, with the title charge in full swing, Wayne Rooney`s equaliser for Everton at Highbury threatened to derail the assault. Minutes after the equaliser, Vieira popped up in Everton`s area and smashed home the winner. He wasn`t the fist pumping; chatterbox legend seems to have peculiarly remembered him as. Indeed, his team mates asserted that he was very quiet in the dressing room and on the pitch. But he was leading by example.

One of my associative memories of this whole era would be that Vieira chant. It became more than a ditty to salute a player, it became a war cry. At away grounds, with a hostile home crowd booing and jeering, the Vieira chant was always our stock standard response. It was an incantation to our leader, imploring him to deliver us from the evils of the opposition. It became like a tribal chant to a distant deity. More often than not, Vieira`s shoulders stiffened to the task and he delivered. In 2003, Arsenal`s Premier League campaign hit the skids and the club finished a heart breaking second place to Manchester United. Arsenal did win the F.A. Cup- but Vieira picked up a knee injury in mid April and missed the run in and the Final victory over Southampton. It`s probably no coincidence that our title charge limped down the tunnel with him that April.

The next season saw Arsenal`s desire stiffened by the disappointment as the club produced its finest season ever, winning the Premiership title without incurring a single defeat. Even if you take away all of his other achievements or the bond that he forged with the club and its supporters, the fact that Vieira captained that side means his name is forever scrawled into Arsenal folklore. With World Cup winner Gilberto alongside him, Vieira found new life as a slightly more front footed midfield player, springing attacks with the diligent Brazilian sweeping up behind him. If you want an illustration of what a great midfielder Patrick Vieira was, ponder on these questions. Was he a defensive midfielder? No. Was he an attacking midfielder? No.

But the summer after the Invincibles season, Vieira once again had thoughts about leaving. He looked pretty set to join Real Madrid, with his manager`s wishes. Wenger had already identified Michael Carrick as a replacement. But Vieira had a change of heart at the last minute and stayed with the club. In truth, it wasn`t his best season. Though he scored 7 goals in 2004-05, he looked like a player in need of a fresh challenge. That said, with his last kick of a ball in an Arsenal shirt, he atoned for the heartbreak of his UEFA Cup Final penalty miss and showed his mettle, taking the 5th penalty and steering it into the roof of Roy Carroll`s net to win the F.A. Cup for Arsenal. It was a fitting end. That summer he joined Juventus for £13m. His crown had been passed to 18 year old Cesc Fabregas. It was a decision that was vindicated as Vieira returned with Juventus in March 2006 to play Arsenal. Fabregas gave him the run around. Robert Pires floored him.

However, he enjoyed great success in Italy, after the Calcio scandal he left Juve forming part of an Inter side that won four Scudettos and two Coppa Italianas. He then spent two seasons under Roberto Mancini at Manchester City as an experienced foil for a side that was aiming for the upper echelons of the game. He helped them to a top 4 finish and an F.A. Cup. Though appearances were limited, his knowhow was acknowledged by Mancini as a crucial factor in his squad. Vieira was a player who spent his entire career at the top table of the game. This summer, he was released by City and decided to retire.

Vieira forms a huge part of my understanding of one of Arsenal`s great teams. He engendered all of its qualities. Whilst one is not to decry the talents of the likes of Bergkamp, Pires and the celestial Thierry Henry, Vieira dealt in the engine room. Strikers and wingers can add touches of colour to games that dance across your imagination for decades. But Vieira played in central midfield. There`s no hiding there. There`s no disappearing for 30 minutes before lashing a volley into the top corner and having everyone reappraise your previous anonymity. In central midfield you clock in and you stay clocked in for every second of the 90 minutes. In 9 years, Vieira never missed a beat. He will always be special to me as a footballer, as the fulcrum of a special side. The Gallic flair, the beating African heart all equated to the soul of Arsenal Football Club. Let us salute him today as a club legend and one of Arsenal's greatest sons. LD.

Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday July 14 2011

Time: 8:44PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Legend. In every sense of the word. Did we ever replace him? Guess we will never be able to.
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14/07/2011 21:23:00

Beautiful piece LD. You really captured the essence of his Arsenal tenure.
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14/07/2011 21:42:00

You can't replace players like Vieira. You can, eventually, get players who could be equal in class, but Vieira is, was, unique. Some incredibly iconic moments in his Arsenal career which will go down in Arsenal folk-lore. I still think it's incredibly fitting that his final kick for us won us the FA Cup. Legend, plain and simple.
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14/07/2011 21:55:00

An article worthy of the man. Titan of a player.
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14/07/2011 22:11:00

Crazy good article Tim.
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14/07/2011 22:45:00

Very befitting, the tribute paid him by Wenger....and this. Great player and Legend.
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14/07/2011 23:44:00

'You can't replace players like Vieira. You can, eventually, get players who could be equal in class, but Vieira is, was, unique.', spot on Rocky. And it is true of all the greats. Is one of the things that gets me the most about the comparisons. For example, Messi might end up being Argentina's best ever footballer, but Maradona he is not. Like LD said, Vieira looms large in my memories as an Arsenal fan having begun following the club almost at the time of his arrival. A true legend of the game and one of the most complete footballers you'll ever see. I wish him well in whatever his future endeavours may be.
Ozi Gooner
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15/07/2011 02:17:00

What a complete midfielder Vieira was. Athleticism, power, skill, resolve and intelligence. It was a pleasure and privelege to watch him play for us.
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15/07/2011 06:17:00

brillinat article tim possibly your best till date in VA...even for a opposition fan it was gr8 read,PV was gr8 player he along with roy keane,henry took EPL to the global brand it is today...have a gr8 post football career PV
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15/07/2011 06:54:00

Great piece LD, really stirred the blood. Like you, I remember PV4's time at the club as our golden age. It was such a glorious time marked with innumerable moments of breathtaking genius that made your heart swell with pride that this was my club and nobody embodied that more than our inspirational captain. Without sounding totally gay (ah F*ck it, I don't care), he was just beautiful. Graceful but hard as nails, passionate yet poised, articulate and outspoken yet also managing to convey a silent dignity that many in todays game could learn from. Patrick was not only the complete footballer, but a role model to all of us who aspire to set an example to others. "Legend" frankly doesn't do him justice.
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15/07/2011 09:27:00

Great article. I'm glad you recalled the way he'd loop the ball over the opponents head and then run away with the ball with his first touch. I used to love see him doing that, it's such an awesome skill. The other thing about him was how his sheer size used to dominate the midfield. I'm sure that had an effect on his opponenents. What a player he was in his pomp.
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15/07/2011 09:49:00

Have to say that all City fans were delighted to see him playing for us, albeit when he was on the wane, and we are absolutely over the (Blue) moon that he decided to turn down Wenger's advances to stay on and coach our youngsters. If even a small percentage of the class he showed as a player transfers to our youth team then we are most certainly on to a winner. Salut Patrick!
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15/07/2011 09:58:00

With Patrick in the team, I felt noone could beat us easily. He would always fight to the end. I have lost that feeling now. PV4 was our security, the player you knew you could count on. I remember a game at St James Park. That Vieira-Gilberto axis was unplayable... They intercepted every ball and won every tackle... Legend.
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15/07/2011 10:49:00

A fantastic player and a great man. He was brilliant to watch and is one of the smartest pundits about. I, maybe stupidly, assumed he would come back to Arsenal to help with the youth setup. Do you think it'll happen in the future? I think it would be one of the best signings Arsenal could make: he has such a great understanding of the game he would help players in every position.
No 10
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15/07/2011 12:24:00

He'd need to prove himself first. Great players don't always make great coaches. Coaching relies on communication skills, developing a relationship that is distant enough to cast authority, yet close enough to be trustworthy, discipline, judging different characters. It's a completely different set of skills.
Little Dutch
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15/07/2011 13:28:00

We at Tottenham hate Viera. His best pass was to Giggs. He he!!
Tony Rocky Horror
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15/07/2011 14:51:00

His pass to Pires for the second at *****e Hart Lane when we won the title weren't bad either, Tony Troll Horror.
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15/07/2011 16:14:00

You wouldn't hate him if he hadn't beaten the ***** out you on so many occasions.
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15/07/2011 17:06:00

Viera was a bully and a creep who needed to be brought down a peg or two. He was a really nasty piece of work. Won't be missed, except now we won't be able to sing 'that' song at him. COYS
Tony Rocky Horror
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15/07/2011 19:48:00

Jaysus, that last paragraph had the dial spinning on me pomposity-meter.
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15/07/2011 20:06:00

I wonder if Viera is aware that the writer is willing to have his babies?
Tony Rocky Horror
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15/07/2011 20:54:00

I doubt it Tony, I doubt, time for bed, that's right, open, lie down...yes, I know you don't want to go to school...shhhsshhh...sleep now...
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15/07/2011 22:26:00

I tell you what TRH, when a Spuds player wins the league on our ground, you can fit him up as you wish? Until then, enjoy Tim Sherwoood, yeah?
Little Dutch
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16/07/2011 01:34:00

An eloquent and fitting tribute to an inspiring captain and true Arsenal legend LD.
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16/07/2011 02:57:00

...and there's always one isn't there - nice post shewore :)
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16/07/2011 02:59:00

The high-sounding word "legend" has become cliched. Let me just give a simpler, one-word tribute: RESPECT.
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16/07/2011 07:44:00

Gawsh the Spuds even pop over here to read about Arsenal legends, lets us know when you do your Ledley Balsa knees write up and we can pop over and have a laugh...we missed the Ruel Fox one.
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16/07/2011 11:32:00

Vieira is a poor man's Ballack.
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18/07/2011 19:50:00

I am not an Arsenal fan but he is a legand great player that played with his heart on his sleeve.
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18/07/2011 20:44:00

Vieira is as good as fabrice muamba.
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18/07/2011 21:06:00

Dannism is a poor mans ballsack
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19/07/2011 00:06:00

Dannism is the opposite of witticism.
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21/07/2011 12:56:00


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