The enormity of a player’s inveterate existence in a football team has been demonstrated by one of the greatest Gunner to have to ever worn the Famous Red and White – Patrick Vieira. Such has been his aura in the center of that midfield, his absence or rather an insurmountable presence is still felt among the players and fans alike. Patrick Vieira, donning the Number Four for Arsenal was such an intimidating stature at the heart of the midfield that opponents often ‘lost their plot’ just by looking at him. Every player to have played in that position after his departure has had it extremely difficult to live up to the fans’ expectations. Patrick’s capability to ‘boss’ the midfield was second to none. There is only one truth as far as emulating Patrick is concerned and that is – You cannot emulate Patrick.
Almost Signed for Ajax – Destiny had Other Plans
It was certainly not foreseeable, an unknown young Frenchman to take the accountability of the ‘new’ Arsenal midfield – George Graham had moved on and the soon-to-be-iconic ‘Arsene Who’ Wenger had taken the reigns of the North London outfit. Patrick was hardly getting any first-team time in Fabio Capello’s midfield at the San Siro. The first and the most important signing as the new era dawned in was to be Patrick’s 3.5 Million Pounds move to Arsenal from AC Milan. It could have been a different story though…
“I’d often run into Arsene in the stands in Milan. In a way, we were both spectators who were not doing very much. His season at Nagoya finished in October, he knew he was going to join Arsenal and I was hardly ever in the AC Milan team. So he asked if I was interested in moving. I was supposed to sign for Ajax, who were beginning to lose the players that had won them the Champions League two years earlier. I only found out recently that the Ajax deal did not go through simply because of agents’ fees. It was funny how a career can swing on such a detail”
What was Ajax’ loss in their football history was certainly a huge gain for the illustrated pages of Arsenal’s folk-lore. And the ‘bargain of the new era’ finally saw the light of the day when Patrick showed the Highbury faithful exactly why he would go on to take the arm-band from the legendary Tony Adams.
The Double – Trophies and Petit
Patrick Vieira was a perfect fit for the English Game possessing fantastic ball-control, incredible stamina, massive shielding capability and was superb with headers. A season after Patrick’s signing, Emmanuel Petit was installed in the side from Monaco with fees a touch lesser than Patrick. The two formed a deadly partnership mostly because of the versatility of their roles in the midfield. Both were capable of doing defensive as well as attacking duties, a type of combination that greatly helped Arsene throughout his first seven years at the club, with Patrick later forming a similar combination with Gilberto Silva in the ‘Invincibles’ days.
With Dennis Bergkamp and Marc Overmars in emphatic form, Arsenal got a lot of goals from the two Dutch masters in the 1997-98’ season. Patrick and Petit formed a lethal partnership in the middle of the field, ‘bossing’ the midfield with their huge physique and impregnable midfield-routine. The team finished the season with a point ahead of United to win the league. They even became only the second team in history to do two ‘Doubles’ as they triumphed over Newcastle at Wembley to clinch the FA Cup final too. Vieira was at ease with his role at Arsenal, marauding opponent midfielders with the kind of overwhelming characteristics he possessed as a defensive midfielder. The Gooners had a new hero, who would go on to become one of the legends of the club.
Once in a lifetime – Duels with Keano
Patrick was so ruthlessly efficient in the middle of the park that opponents found it very intimidating to try to man-mark the great man. Yet, there existed one another general who was born to ‘counter’ Patrick, in stature, in brutality and in consummate effectiveness. Roy Keane, the Manchester United leader, never spent a dull moment on the pitch with Patrick around. Their individual battles were substantial, sometimes it overshadowed the Arsenal vs Manchester United games.
What is football without these duels?
Hard-man Keano never missed an opportunity to ‘jump on’ Patrick, be it in the middle of the park, inside a tunnel, in post-match interviews or sports columns. The ‘tense atmosphere’ that was built in United-Arsenal games was simply because it was a known fact that Patrick hated Keane and vice-versa. Yet with all the rivalry, little tiffs in the midfield, ‘dig’ at each other in paper columns, the two had massive respect for each other, because they knew that they were the best in the business.
“When I came to England he was the one I was looking forward to playing against because he is the best in the business in his position. I have big respect for him.”
Second Double with Arsenal – Captain’s Arm-Band
In a season closely contested by usual suspects Arsenal and Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle United were very much in contention too. Patrick was partnered in the midfield with Ray Parlour, the latter being more of an attacking minded midfielder. This made Vieira play a deeper role, something his compatriot Makelele would be proud of. The incredible defense of Arsenal had a midfield maestro shielding them, exactly why breaking down Arsenal was so difficult. Patrick, already vice-captain of the side, had an incredible season with the Gunners. The season decider was to happen at none other than Old Trafford, the penultimate match of the season, where a victory was a must for United. It didn’t happen, thanks to the famous rebound goal from Patrick’s country-man Sylvian Wiltord.
Arsenal ended that season with two trophies, another significant achievement by Monsieur Wenger and his troops. The captain’s arm-band was to be handed over to the most-deserved recipient of it – of course, Patrick Vieira, who would now have to fill-in the ‘big shoes’ of retired Tony ‘Mr.Arsenal’ Adams. In the next few years, Arsenal would have the most proficient of Gunners to have ever worn that celebrated arm-band.
Leading the Team to Becoming Invincibles
When Arsene joked about going an entire season without losing a football match in the summer of 2002, not many ‘laughed it out’, there was a genuine belief in the side that such an incredible feat was, after all, achievable. To accomplish such a big task, the important thing is to have a captain whom the team can look onto when the ‘chips were down’, a motivator par excellence, a brutal impassive monster who is ready to fight it out with whatever is available to him as resources. Arsene had tremendous faith in Patrick; he almost left half the job of ‘controlling the troops’ to his country-man. With Gilberto as his partner in midfield organization, Patrick led his men to an unbelievable season of pure footballing artistry – giving them the tag of ‘Invincibles’. Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljunberg, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell and the captain himself were the trump-cards from Arsene that season as Arsenal finished without losing a single league game.
A Legend, A Chapter, A Legacy…
“You can only have a lot of for what Patrick has achieved. His career is sensational. He was an exceptional player for us.
“We have classy players in midfield now but Patrick was special. He was a tall player with good technique. We have exceptional players in midfield with their own character. But at Arsenal we will be forever be grateful for Patrick’s contribution.”
After Patrick kicked the ball for the last time in Arsenal colors, there was an immediate ‘hollow’ in the Arsenal midfield. It is not-a-strange-irony that Arsenal never won silverware after Patrick lifted that FA Cup in 2005. It is more of a loss-of-impact, loss of a leader, loss of an irreplaceable force in midfield. Arsenal never managed to fill that void left behind by Patrick, every player had to bear with the perennial ‘Oh Come On, He cannot be a Patrick Vieira’ comments from fans.
The former Arsenal captain has given the club a sensational chapter whose pages are emblazoned by his supreme leadership qualities, unmatched footballing aptitude and a charisma so overwhelming that it will take players years and years of dedicated excellence to ever come close to emulate that. The Arsenal Legend has been an archetype of superlative professionals to have ever played for the club in its 125 years of wonderful history. He is now a role-model for every aspiring footballer trying to achieve success at the club. In the walls of The Emirates and in the soil of Highbury Square lies the mark of eminence of the quintessential midfield maestro – that was Patrick Vieira. He created a legacy at the club…..
There can be only one Patrick Vieira.