No Patrick Vieira at Arsenal (yet): How Gunners manager job has proven elusive for club legend
Patrick Vieira is an Arsenal club legend, the captain of its Invincibles team and one of the club’s leaders during his nine years playing for them. But he will be coaching against his former club when he leads Crystal Palace against Arsenal. And if he’s successful, many supporters at the Emirates will be wondering why Vieira isn’t sitting on the Gunners’ bench.
Arsenal, just three points ahead of Crystal Palace in the English Premier League table, is coached by another former Arsenal player in 39-year-old Mikel Arteta, who was appointed as manager in December 2019, only three years after retiring. Immediately after hanging up his boots, Arteta got a job as Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City before being handed the reins at Arsenal.
The 45-year-old Patrick Vieira had a more circuitous path to coaching in the Premier League after his playing days were over, but it has never involved the club where he became a global star. In the lead-up to the match against Arsenal he was asked why:
“I don’t know — that is a question you should ask them,” Vieira told The Guardian. “When I decided to move into that journey of becoming a manager there are options and choices and you just follow your route. Today that journey has taken me to Crystal Palace and I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity.”
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The Frenchman was at Manchester City when he called it a career in July 2011. He credits current City Football Group Director of Global Football Brain Marwood with giving him his entry into coaching in a youth development role at Man City and later appointing him in May 2013 as the club’s reserve team manager.
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Two years later, in May 2015, Vieira was interviewed for the Newcastle United job before the Magpies opted for former England manager Steve McClaren, who only lasted eight months in the job. Six months after that opportunity fell through, Man City gave Vieira his first top-flight head coaching appointment at sister club NYCFC in Major League Soccer.
Vieira left a positive impression in two-and-a-half seasons in New York, giving an attack-minded identity to a team that struggled in its expansion season. He would lead NYCFC to fourth-place (2016) and second-place (2017) in his two full seasons in charge, only to stumble in the playoff quarterfinals in each season. But he did enough to earn his first European managerial gig in June 2018 with OGC Nice in France’s Ligue 1 after being linked with Saint-Etienne a year prior.
He also enjoyed success in France, leading Nice to seventh-place and fifth-place finishes. But after a streak of five straight losses, including elimination from the Europa League group stage, Vieira was let go in December 2020.
Vieira was reportedly a candidate for the job at English second-tier side Bournemouth in February 2021, but his first crack at the Premier League was only a few months away when Crystal Palace hired him in July 2021.
Legendary Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger left the club in the summer of 2018 and Vieira, who was at NYCFC at the time, was rumored to be a candidate to succeed him. But the Gunners instead opted for the more proven European manager in Unai Emery and days after that news was revealed, Vieira joined OGC Nicein France.
Emery lasted a little over a year, opening up another opportunity to potentially bring back Vieira when Emery was sacked in November 2019. Instead, Arsenal went with the unproven Arteta, though it’s hard to believe there wasn’t a deal to be done to release Vieira from his OGC Nice contract if Gunners management really wanted him.
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To think that Wenger had set the stage for Arsenal to appoint Vieira when months before the Emery sacking he highlighted Vieira as a future Arsenal coach:
“It’s just flattering that the guy who spent over 20 years there thinks I have the quality to manage a big club like Arsenal one day,” Vieira said in reaction at the time.
Arsenal has never brought Vieira on board. Now the Frenchman has the opportunity to show his former club what they missed out on when they go head-to-head for the first time in the Premier League:
“I’m really looking forward to it. I had a chance to play for this football club for nine years,” Vieira said in a pregame news conference. “I arrived when I was a kid and I left as a man. It’s the club where I played my best football, I would say. Going back there is emotional, but I will put that on the side. What is important for us is to perform well and get points.”