Vieira good fit to re­place Wenger

> Former Arsenal skip­per has emerged as an im­pres­sive con­tender for man­ager – if Arsene takes Eng­land post

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS - BY IAN HER­BERT

BE­HIND the scenes at Manch­ester City, they saw in one of the small de­tails that Pa­trick Vieira (pix) was dif­fer­ent. Rel­a­tively few of the big-name play­ers the club has signed dur­ing their ac­cel­er­ated rise to the top have bought their own houses, pre­fer­ring to hedge their bets on a rented prop­erty whilst pass­ing through. Vieira was only signed on an 18-month deal by Roberto Mancini but his mind was set. He bought a place.

The com­mit­ment has borne fruit in a way that he could not have imag­ined. Hav­ing left an ex­ec­u­tive role at the club to be­gin coach­ing City’s elite de­vel­op­ment squad three years ago, Vieira was ap­pointed man­ager of the club’s MLS af­fil­i­ate side New York City FC (NYCFC) last Novem­ber and, in the face of some scep­ti­cism, has just de­liv­ered them to the league’s play-offs.

The ac­com­plish­ment has been barely no­ticed ei­ther in the UK or France, yet it has told us plenty about a nascent man­age­ment style.

As Vieira’s old men­tor Arsene Wenger marks 20 years at the Arsenal helm, it marks him out as an in­di­vid­ual well on the way to be­ing a le­git­i­mate suc­ces­sor. He’d have been back at the club long be­fore now if he’d had it his way. He re­cently told L’Equipe that he was dis­ap­pointed Wenger didn’t call him when he was con­sid­er­ing a re­turn to Bri­tain in 2010.

When Vieira met NYCFC sup­port­ers and me­dia in an ex­tra­or­di­nary 11-hour in­tro­duc­tory ses­sion at a pub in Midtown Man­hat­tan around the turn of the year, his cau­tion was pal­pa­ble. Wit­nesses to it re­mem­ber him want­ing some of those in at­ten­dance to tell him why the team had fallen short in a poor 2015 maiden MLS sea­son, which had seen his pre­de­ces­sor Ja­son Kreis dis­missed.

NYCFC were an out­lier in the con­ver­sa­tion about this sea­son’s play-offs, be­cause Vieira’s in­her­i­tance was a top-heavy squad, in which the three big names of the Euro­pean game – Frank Lam­pard, An­dreas Pirlo and for­ward David Villa – re­ceived most of the capped pay­roll and lim­ited the manger’s room for ma­noeu­vre.

Granted, hav­ing those three in the ranks is a gift. You imag­ine Pirlo could man­age a team sin­gle-handed. But the team had con­ceded 58 goals the pre­vi­ous sea­son – no MLS side leaked more –and as the New York Times has ob­served, dozens of for­eign man­agers had failed to find suc­cess amid the “quirks” of MLS: salary caps, ros­ter lim­its and cross coun­try travel. There were no sig­nif­i­cant close-sea­son ad­di­tions to the ranks.

His was an in­aus­pi­cious start. That por­ous de­fence was ev­i­dent again in a 4-3 open­ing game win at Chicago Fire. There was a ca­pac­ity to con­cede late goals and, on May 21, a nadir - a hum­bling 7-0 de­feat to the Red Bulls at Yan­kee Sta­dium. Vieira ac­cused the team of “cow­ardice.” Villa ad­mit­ted the match had been “a dis­as­ter.”

On hind­sight, the low point was a turn­ing point. Vieira’s in­can­des­cence seemed to touch a nerve in the dress­ing room, Lam­pard – who made his first ap­pear­ance of the sea­son in the game’s lat­ter stages – was sub­se­quently avail­able – and the side won four and lost only one of their next six games.

They have lost five since, with an at­tack minded side in which 19-goal Villa has been the stel­lar per­former. (De­fend­ing and a propen­sity to con­cede pos­ses­sion with their cus­tom­ary style of play­ing out from the back are weak­nesses.)

Ob­servers put the turn-around down to that ruth­less­ness in Vieira for which he will al­ways re­tain af­fec­tion in North Lon­don and for which, it should be said, Wenger is cer­tainly not known. Not just in the clear-out of ex­pe­ri­enced MLS pro­fes­sion­als he in­sti­gated in the close sea­son, but in a tougher train­ing regime, too. Dou­ble ses­sions be­came com­mon.

Those who have ob­served him at close quar­ters down the years do dis­cern a dis­tinct tem­per­a­men­tal shift be­tween Vieira the player and Vieira the man­ager. As a player, his ag­gres­sion was al­ways trans­par­ent.

Few who spoke to him in the hours af­ter the Cham­pi­ons League de­feat at Va­len­cia in 2001, a year when the tour­na­ment was wide open, will for­get his burn­ing fury as he de­scribed the ap­palling ‘av­er­a­ge­ness’ of Arsenal’s sea­son. “Hot-headed, sin­gle­minded and de­ter­mined,” is how the Arsenal spe­cial­ist John Cross de­scribes this vivid en­counter in his book on Arsenal un­der Wenger. On the MLS touch­line, Vieira seems to have taken a lit­tle of that ex­te­rior ag­gres­sion out, how­ever. He seems a changed in­di­vid­ual – calmer – and the sus­pi­cion is that he is chan­nelling his ag­gres­sion and men­tal en­ergy into the play­ers. “It peeled the paint from the walls,” says one wit­ness to his words af­ter the Red Bulls de­feat. By all avail­able ev­i­dence, Wenger has never dam­aged the in­te­rior decor. Vieira is also dis­play­ing ev­i­dence of an acute am­bi­tion to get on quickly in man­age­ment. It is un­der­stood that one of his rea­sons for seek­ing a move away from City’s un­der -21s’ role was the fre­quent loss of the team’s best tal­ents on loan. It meant that the work he could do to im­prove the side could never be gen­uinely re­flected on the pitch, where re­sults in the un­der-19s in the UEFA Youth League in­cluded a 6-0 win over Bay­ern Mu­nich. Vieira’s pres­ence in Manch­ester cre­ated oc­ca­sional chances to meet him and sched­uled 20 minute in­ter­views usu­ally evolved into some­thing longer, dur­ing which his cri­tique of the Bri­tish game demon­strated his level of ab­sorp­tion with it. He has strong views, for ex­am­ple, on the fail­ure to de­velop more English play­ers who can chal­lenge the for­eign com­po­nent for Pre­mier League start­ing po­si­tions. “I think Eng­land has to change the way they are teach­ing foot­ball be­cause foot­ball is chang­ing and the method isn’t chang­ing as much,” he told The In­de­pen­dent 18 months ago. The quin­tes­sen­tial English qual­ity of ‘pas­sion’ is com­mend­able and es­sen­tial, Vieira said, but “now it’s more about the cre­ativ­ity. How do you move around the pitch to be in the right places? How do you con­trol and pass? It sounds re­ally sim­ple but at the end it’s com­plex and re­ally dif­fi­cult.” He syn­chro­nised his acad­emy squad’s train­ing ses­sions with the first team, so that some of the elite class might rub off. City will cer­tainly not want to lose Vieira, whose side have two games in which to win the Eastern Con­fer­ence and se­cure a top play-off seed­ing, and the prospect of him re­turn­ing to work along­side Pep Guardi­ola does not seem in­con­ceiv­able. But the club’s ex­ec­u­tive board want the Cata­lan to stay and cre­ate a dy­nasty, so he may need to look else­where for a chal­lenge which fits. Tak­ing Arsenal on post-Wenger is about as big as they get. – The In­de­pen­dent

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