Sunday, 10 January 2010

Enter Vieira

This week has seen the first transfer of the Mancini era. Patrick Vieira, 33 years old, signed from Inter Milan on an initial six month deal, is a player most English fans remember well. His return to the Premier League has already sparked a great deal of debate, with the main concern being that the Frenchman isn’t getting any younger. So why exactly has Mancini turned to Vieira as the next piece of the Eastands jigsaw? I think four central reasons stand out.

The winning mentality
Mancini has already gone on record as stating that Vieira’s mentality is important for the team. It’s clear that Vieira is a winner: three Premier League titles, four FA cups, three Serie A titles, two Italian Super Cups, a World Cup winners medal, a European Championship winners medal. The honours do not come much higher. Only reaching the heights of European football seems to have eluded the Frenchman.

Having these kinds of winners in the dressing room and on the training pitch I think is a positive thing. Approaching a match in the right frame of mind – a winning frame of mind – is what Vieira will bring to the table here. This will be especially vital for our younger players, but also will come in handy for the more established members of the team. Everyone can learn from a World Cup winner that played and won alongside the likes of messers Lizarazu, Blanc, Deschamps, Desailly and Zidane.

Searching for leadership
Having captained Arsenal to several trophies (replacing the formidable Tony Adams I might add) and throughout the ‘Invincible’ run that saw the Gunners go unbeaten during the 2003-04 season, Vieira is an obvious born leader. Tevez, Barry and De Jong have all demonstrated leadership qualities, but I feel none of them have the authority to command the wider squad. And from what I have seen so far, Toure doesn’t instil much confidence in this area.

I’m certainly not arguing for a change in club captain. For the moment I think it should remain as Toure – everybody has dips in form and the Ivorian should be given the chance to pull himself out of it when he returns from Angola (hopefully with an Africa Cup of Nations winners medal). But until that upturn materialises, I think a player like Vieira can only serve to address any deficiencies in leadership that we might have.

Talk can be cheap, but so far I certainly like what I hear from the ex-Gunner: “The squad is packed full of quality, that is why I believe the ambition should be high. We should not be afraid to say that we are good enough to win the league because we are and as a team we should believe we can do it.”

Tactical awareness
Heavily linked with Vieira’s leadership qualities is the Frenchman’s tactical ability in the heat of a game. If we could rewind the fixture list, it would be interesting to see how many games we would’ve drawn with Vieira’s involvement. Clearly, you do not go a whole season unbeaten without knowing how to shut teams out. This kind of experience will certainly not go amiss when we are under the cosh, away from home against lesser teams that engage in awkward tactics.
Vieira will also bring something new to the City midfield – height. This physical presence is vital, especially now that Kompany has moved to central defence to plug the gaps left by injuries and international duty.

Vieira’s personal motivations
Finally, and perhaps most important, is the fact that far from returning to England for one last big payday, Vieira is returning with the objective of breaking back into the French national squad for this summer’s World Cup. Vitally for City, this should mean that the Frenchman will be just as competitive as he ever was. Hopefully, that passion to win will also rub off on a few of the other players.

I am certainly not saying that Vieira is the best thing since sliced bread. At one time he was, certainly, but we are now in 2010, not 2004. We all know that the central worry has to be his fitness. Lee Dixon, Vieira’s old Arsenal team mate, recently spoke of how Vieira was not a naturally fit footballer and how he often required longer than most when recovering from games. This is certainly alarming given that the Frenchman is now 33 years old.

Only two people really know whether Patrick Vieira still has the legs for English football: Vieira himself, and Roberto Mancini. Both clearly think in the affirmative. For Mancini, it goes much further than what Vieira can give him on the pitch, with the manager already referring to the advantage of Vieira being familiar with his working methods off it. The Frenchman might well find himself being a tactical communicator at Carrington just as much as he will likely be on the turfs of Premier League grounds across the country.

Signing Patrick Vieira is certainly a gamble, but one I feel where the odds are stacked in Mancini’s favour. In footballing terms, Vieira does resemble an elder statesman. But the Frenchman, who is also (rather pleasingly) an old enemy of Manchester United, may well have a few tricks up his sleeve yet.