“Patrick is one of the greatest players of his era” was how new City boss Roberto Mancini announced the arrival of 33 year-old, former Gunner, Patrick Vieira. Anyone could excuse the Eastland’s faithful for reading that opening line twice, as whether “is” should be replaced with “was” is still up for debate.
Indeed, no-one can doubt the pedigree of the Senegalese born, French International, there are few trophies that he has competed in that he has not won. Looking back at Vieira’s career, he first came to the fore in 1996 when he swapped French club Cannes for the San Siro, with his first spell in Italy coming at AC Milan. It was there that he caught the eye of Arsene Wenger and less than 12 months later moved to Arsenal, where he would stay for almost 9 years, winning the Premiership title 3 times and lifting the FA Cup 4 times.
It is now 4 and a half years since Vieira moved to Italy with Juventus, where he had his Serie A title revoked due to the match-fixing scandal. Since then, he has won 3 more titles and 2 super cups, not to mention his International haul with France, counting a World Cup, European Championship and a Confederations Cup amongst the silverware on his mantelpiece.
So after his spell with Juve, Vieira moved onto his second spell in Milan, this time with Inter. Roberto Mancini steered them to success with the 6ft 3” midfield anchorman integral to his plans however, after Mourinho took charge, both Mancini and it appears Vieira, were surplus to requirements when younger models came along. This left the two Inter exiles to be reunited at Eastland’s on the 8th January, with a free transfer being agreed between the two clubs, despite the adverse weather conditions that lead City’s Carling Cup Semi Final to be postponed.
It appears what both parties are hoping for is a return to form, with City still very much looking like a side that have been thrown together, with no natural hierarchy or leadership. There is still something missing from the formula that will cement a top four spot in the league, a gap Vieira will be expected to plug, for the short term at least. A player of his calibre, as concurred by Mancini, has the potential to do this, whether the flame that Wenger saw 14 years ago is still burning is yet to be seen.
Vieira’s motives however have been clouded by the talk of a £100k a week pay cheque, which is guaranteed for six months, with a view to a further twelve if successful. Inter were looking to offload him in the summer, by all accounts, as his contract was set to expire. Perhaps one last hoorah with old pal Mancini was too good to turn down, particularly as a pay as you play deal was binned and reportedly has a clause in his contract that allows him to stay on in a coaching capacity if his Italian boss is still at the helm come September.
By the time you read this, it will be almost a month since Vieira signed for City; however, he has not been seen near the famous blue strip since he held up the number 24 shirt for photographers at the start of the transfer window. Take note Sheikh Mansour, this could be supporting evidence that Vieira’s capture could be the most inspired signing this season and indeed most cost effective that City have done for nearly 18 months. Vieira played his last game for Inter, against Chievo on the Sunday before the move, in which he picked up a calf injury that has seen him sidelined since. However, it is widely reported that that was his best game for Inter for some considerable time and who are we to argue with “The Special One”.
It is reported that the Frenchman will return against Hull this weekend, however it is clear to all involved that he still has something to offer, given the fact that when handed the opportunity, despite being in the more physically accommodating Serie A. Not only will it become clear that he has a lot to offer, but a great deal to prove also. The Vieira that went head to head with Roy Keane a number of years ago has not been lost, just misplaced. He will be reunited alongside not just Mancini, but former teammates, Sylvinho and Toure and will be truly under scrutiny as one of the greatest players to play in the Premiership. Furthermore, Sol Campbell has also pulled on his boots at the top level in England, again becoming a Gunner, so no doubt Vieira will be under pressure to outperform him, particularly as Wenger is rumoured to have shunned him in favour of the centre half.
So the eyes of the football world could very well be bearing down on Patrick Vieira come this weekend, if indeed he does finally make his first appearance for the Eastland’s club. In what has been a quiet transfer window all round, admittedly somewhat unexpectedly at City, the biggest news is Robinho departing, rather than a big name arrival. However, with a World Cup looming and fierce competition for places, with the likes of Barry, De Jong and Zabaletta all wanting to go to South Africa, something has to give. As Mancini said, “(Vieira) knows what the Premier League is all about and he will not need much time to settle in.” Therefore come May, who would bet against a fit Vieira pushing City into Europe and boarding a plane to the World Cup? Not me that’s for sure.