The North Bank Hall Of Fame: Patrick Vieira
When Arsene Wenger agreed to take the manager’s job at Arsenal his first move was to instruct the board to sign a lanky midfield reserve from AC Milan. In 1996 very few Arsenal fans knew who either Wenger or Patrick Vieira were and none could predict the legendary status both would go on to achieve.
Vieira made his debut as a first half substitute in a 4-1 home win against Sheffield Wednesday and he made an immediate impression. Our lack of background on the player meant it wasn’t clear whether he was a first choice or a young back up but a series of accomplished performances meant he soon became a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League.
Vieira’s stature was striking and it allowed him to impose himself on games which were played at frenetic pace. His fondness for battle would eventually prove to be the hallmark of a glittering career, but to focus on that is to miss the quality he possessed elsewhere.
Patrick Vieira had a profound effect on British Football, not unlike the man who bought him to these shores. Soon after his arrival it became de-rigueur for clubs to search out similar players of similar stature who could bring bite to the midfield. 6ft plus midfielders were soon referred to as “the new Vieira” as the likes of Mohammed Sissoko at Liverpool and Papa Bouba Diop at Fulham were bought in to add an athletic dimension to pedestrian midfields. None of the imitators were able to out muscle the original and none of them had his ability on the ball either.
When the idea that Arsenal have never replaced Vieira is lazily thrown around it singularly fails to acknowledge that there has barely been a comparable player in the English top division before or since. Vieira stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries because the ease in which he would win possession was married to his ability to drive away from danger, turning defence into attack as his loping stride ate up the Highbury turf.
Whilst every team in the league now has a defensive midfield shield, Vieira was much more than that. Goals were not a key part of his contribution yet he still managed a few classics. The occasional blockbuster, like this against United, were worth waiting and this goal against Sp*rs better shows his overall contribution.
If he was at Arsenal now, and in his prime, it would be a criminal waste to leave him at the base of a midfield three. Vieira was the ultimate box-to-box midfielder and therefore irreplaceable.
Vieira got the better of Gerrard and Lampard, the best two England players of the generation, and the only player who came close to him was Roy Keane. The Irishman enjoyed intimidating and overwhelming opponents but Vieira had an equal desire for battle and relished cutting the usually rampant Keane down to size. Both men were ultimate competitors who were able to turn impossible situations around through sheer force of character. When they met in numerous top of the table clashes it was the proverbial irresistible force against the immovable object. The battles sometimes spilled over and there seemed to be genuine malice between Vieira and Keane but there was no denying the pair felt that their opposite number was the only player capable of really providing a test.
Whilst Keane managed to win marginally more medals during the period in which the pair locked horns, it was Paddy who had the last laugh. His final game for Arsenal was the 2005 FA Cup Final. A two hour war of attrition was unable to produce a victor so it went to the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Locked at 4-4 Vieira’s final kick in an Arsenal shirt was a confident penalty out of reach of United stopper Roy Carroll. Vieira’s final contribution to Arsenal was to lift a trophy; something that hasn’t been replicated by any of the captains to follow.
To place Patrick Vieira, our invincible captain, in the wearethenorthbank.com Hall of Fame barely needs justification. When the years caught up with Tony Adams we had an equal competitor ready to take the armband. Adams is the benchmark by which all Arsenal captains should be measured and there can be no greater compliment than to say that Vieira took on the responsibility and achieved equal legendary status in Arsenal’s history.