As Thierry Henry claims the captain’s armband at Highbury and Juventus have completed their £13 move for Patrick Viera, the Sunday Times’ Ian Hawkey looks back on the latter’s 9 years as Arsenal’s talisman.
There is no shortage of would-be new Vieiras, although nobody, yet, who is ready to steal the patent. Naturally, comparisons will be made, the gap at Highbury noted. There is not a footballer since Tony Adams who has figured larger as the totem of the team. A scarcely remembered fact is that Vieira effectively endorsed Wenger™s appointment as Arsenal manager in 1996, before even their supporters and a sceptical English football community had even made the manager™s acquaintance. There had been a delay of some weeks, it will be recalled, between Wenger™s recruitment and his actual arrival at Highbury, and some rude questions filled that time: œArsÃ¨ne Who?. The suspicion grew, though, that this Wenger fellow might have a good eye when a slender 20-year-old entered the field as a substitute at Highbury, with Arsenal a goal down to Sheffield Wednesday. Enter Vieira into a midfield populated at that time by the likes of Steve Morrow and accustomed to watching Ian Wright chase long passes. Arsenal won the match 4-1 and Wenger arrived three weeks later to find Vieira established in the first XI, a status only ever threatened by injury or suspension.
And there would be many suspensions, just as there would develop siege theories within Highbury over the dedication of opponents towards provoking their most dominating footballer. Vieira received 10 red cards in his time in England and several of them would in turn be given as reasons why he might be driven away from the English game. The rationale for his departure is much less heat-of-the-moment. Juventus have offered him a contract that will keep him on superstar wages until he is 34; his relationship with Arsenal had altered, notably after last summer™s drawn-out saga with Madrid.