He was Arsenal’s last genuine on-the-field leader. Indeed, the Gunners’ fading as a footballing force can be traced back almost directly to the moment Patrick Vieira left the club. For many, the Frenchman was Arsenal’s beating the heart, the one who got their blood rushing. They’ve never quite been the same since.
So with the North London outfit now on the lookout for a new leader after the sacking of Unai Emery last week it’s perhaps unsurprising that Vieira has been put forward as a potential candidate. In fact, recent reports claim the former Invincible, now Nice manager, has been made frontrunner for the job (4/1).
Vieira as a character would certainly bring an air of authority that has been desperately lacking around the Emirates Stadium recently.
He would offer some much-needed experience of what it takes to win a Premier League title - Arsenal haven’t won one since he left the club nearly 15 years ago.
But what is Vieira like as a manager in his own right? Does he have the necessary skillset to be successful as Arsenal boss should he be approached for the position? Or would he be the Gunners’ very own Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - an appointment based on little more than naive sentimentality and nostalgia?
While Vieira naturally cites Arsene Wenger as the managerial figure he has modelled himself on most, he has also previously expressed admiration for the way Jose Mourinho meticulously prepares his teams, as well as Roberto Mancini’s determination and Manuel Pellegrini’s levelheadedness (Vieira was a part of the Chilean’s wider staff at Manchester City, taking charge of the reverse squad and the youth academy).
The Gunners legend made 371 appearances between 1996 and 2005, winning nine trophies
At New York City FC and Nice, Vieira has professed attractive, modern football.
In MLS, he was a winner, leading NYC FC to the runners-up spot in the Eastern Conference in each of his two seasons there. Vieira never managed to lead his team to a play-off run, but he put in place principles that still sustain the Bronx club to this day. His imprints are still visible.
Vieira was perceived to be a candidate for the Arsenal back in the summer of 2018, before Emery was ultimately appointed. Back then, his lack of top level experience having only coached in the United States counted against him. The truth is Vieira hasn’t really added to this in any meaningful way since then.
Ligue 1 is certainly a stronger league than MLS with a greater standing in the sport, but the difference between coaching at a club like Nice and being Arsenal manager would still be vast.
Especially when compared to the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Max Allegri who have both been linked with the Gunners job, Vieira is lacking in hard qualifications.
His appointment would be a gamble based on hunch and gut feeling.
Never one to hide his individual ambition, Vieira once said returning to Man City while he was still on City Football Group’s books to succeed Pep Guardiola was his “fairytale story.”
He has also expressed a desire to coach in Serie A one day in the future having played for AC Milan, Inter and Juventus. “I’d love to coach an Italian team because it’s a pleasure when you work in a country with passion, and in Italy there is a lot of passion for football,” he said.
Increasingly, though, it seems inevitable that Vieira will one day sit in the Emirates Stadium dugout.
Whether or not this is the right time for that to materialise is almost impossible to determine, but Arsenal need a natural leader and the Frenchman certainly is that. There would be a real symbolism if Vieira is the one to restore the club of his greatest legacy.