Regular readers will know that I’m not usually one to encourage ridiculous transfer stories by writing about them, but there’s an hour to go until the third Ashes test starts (though not if the Birmingham weather has anything to do with it) and Ian Wright has been quoted as suggesting that Patrick Vieira (yes, that Patrick Vieira) might be about to make a sensational return to Arsenal.
Now there’s no doubt that Arsenal are in a bit of a pickle at the moment. They’ve just sold Adebayor and Toure to Man City and have only brought in Tom Vermaelen, which means that a squad that was a long way short of a title challenge last season is now even shorter. Of course, some people will point out that Eduardo and Rosicky will be like new signings, but that still leaves them well short of the tough tackling Vieira type midfielder that Wenger forgot to sign last season.
It seems that the script could be written then, and I’m a big fan of Patrick Vieira. Which is why I really hope he doesn’t return to Arsenal.
There’s no doubting that Vieira is an Arsenal legend. He stormed around the middle of Highbury for many a good year, acting as the ultimate midfield enforcer. Indeed, who could forget the mouth-watering clashes of Vieira’s Arsenal and Roy Keane’s Manchester United. Those were the matches that the term ‘Super Sunday’ was coined for. And I’ll never forget sitting in the Park Stand at Goodison watching Big Duncan Ferguson pick Vieira up by the neck and lightly toss him a few feet onto his backside. It was like watching King Kong fight the T-Rex, and if the ref saw it he pretended that he hadn’t, and I don’t blame him.
Arsenal fans would then, probably be pretty pleased to see Vieira return to the Gunners. They know as well as anyone that Wenger has never adequately replaced Vieira since he left, though props to Gilberto Silva and Mathieu Flamini who each did a respectable job at one time or another, they’re big boots to fill. It’s a shame though, because just imagine what would be achieved if you could give Fabregas such a midfield partner as Vieira in his prime. He would be completely free to weave his magic, and weave it he most certainly would.
That though, is why it is essential that Patrick Vieira doesn’t return to Arsenal. Because he is a Premier League great. You ask most managers who’ve managed in the Premier League who they’d choose in an all time Premier League XI and he’d be in most of them. At his best he was simply unplayable, in that you could neither stop him nor stop him from stopping you, if you follow me. There were few more majestic sights than seeing Vieira striding full speed through the Highbury centre circle, before threading an inch perfect ball through to Henry, who duly dispatched it in typically composed fashion.
Unfortunately, Patrick Vieira is now 33 years old, and coming towards the end of his career. His last couple of seasons at Inter Milan have been blighted by injury and whenever I’ve seen him play I’ve been a little bit disappointed. He’s simply not the player he once was. He doesn’t have that indestructible sort of presence that he used to have, that was what made him the player he was. Time has had its way with him as it will us all, but I for one want to remember him in his prime.
I said at the start that I was a big Vieira fan, and you’re probably starting to see what I mean. As a young player who liked to play in the middle of the park, he was one of the guys I looked up to and tried to base my own game on. I’ve always been a massive Everton fan of course, and the sort of idolatry reserved for the likes of Big Dunc, Andy Hinchcliffe and Joe Parkinson will never be lavished on the likes of Vieira, but of all the players who weren’t lucky enough to wear the Royal Blue of Everton, he was one of my favourites.
And so I don’t want to see him return to an Arsenal side that is a shadow of the Invincible team that he captained. I don’t want to watch him look ever so slightly out of pace in the centre of a furious Premier League game. Because let’s face it, Serie A is played at walking pace while the Premier League is like Usain Bolt on speed, whizzing all over the place. Vieira might have the legs and technique to play in Italy still, but I really don’t think he’s really got it in him to step up to the intensity of the Premier League.
It would be a shame for Vieira himself to return to Arsenal too. Oh sure, he’d be chuffed to be back in his old stomping ground, but it wouldn’t quite be the same. He wouldn’t be the captain, and he wouldn’t be able to command the team quite as he did back then. They’ve moved on from there, and if he struggled at all in getting up to speed in the English game he’d be sure to hear negative whispers from the very fans who used to worship him. The modern football fan is a fickle animal indeed.
What’s more, I don’t know what benefit Wenger might see in bringing back Vieira. While it may placate some of the fans who are getting restless at the lack of transfer activity, he won’t add very much to the squad as a whole. Indeed, it’s very out of character for Wenger, as everyone knows that the Professor likes to get ’em young and mould them to his will. So unless he sees him as a potential cover at centre-back or is bringing him in with a view to adding him to his coaching staff, I can’t see it.
Ultimately, the rule of thumb in football is that you should never go back, and it’s pretty accurate, though I wish someone would remind Kevin Keegan. If anyone can name me one player who has gone back to a club and been more successful second time round, please do let me know, but I can’t think of any. Even Big Dunc, who can do no wrong in my eyes, suffered too much from injury in his second stint at Everton for me to call it better than his first.
So despite the fact that Ian Wright said that a Vieira return to Arsenal is “what [he’s] hearing and . . . hoping” I really hope he’s disappointed. Patrick Vieira is a great player, an absolute icon of both Arsenal Football Club and the Premier League, and that’s what he should remain. If he returns to Arsenal he will not be able to add to his status, only detract from it, and for such a wonderful, elegant player and all round nice guy, that would be a hell of a shame.
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