Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Crisis Talk Laughed off as Vieira Gets Back to Work; Skipper Gets Mocked as Players Say He Will Stay

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Crisis Talk Laughed off as Vieira Gets Back to Work; Skipper Gets Mocked as Players Say He Will Stay

Article excerpt

Byline: STEVE STAMMERS

AS the Arsenal players returned to their health spa base some 20 miles outside the Austrian city of Graz on Saturday night after their preseason win over Grazer AK, sitting in the bar sipping mineral water were Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell - and Patrick Vieira.

Along with the other Euro 2004 combatants like Robert Pires, Ashley Cole, Fredrik Ljungberg and Jens Lehmann, the trio had been given extra summer leave to recover from their exertions in Portugal.

But with respect to the others in the contingent, all eyes were on Vieira and the banter started immediately.

Speculation about Vieira's future has become something of a Highbury tradition. "It must be summer because Patrick is off to Real Madrid," was the general consensus of opinion at the resort of Bad Wagerberg, as the news filtered back from England that the aristocracy at the Bernabeu let it be known, again, that Vieira was on their wish list. And inevitably there was the gentle mocking that went with the stories.

" Patrick, go and see Cesc (Fabrigas), Jose (Antonio Reyes) and Lauren," was the advice to the Highbury captain. Fabrigas and Reyes are Spanish and Lauren was raised in Spain. "They will be able to help you learn a few basics in the language."

As for Vieira, he just smiled and, as he has since news of Real's latest apparent interest, said nothing.

Arsenal may yet offer Vieira a lucrative contract extension to ward off the interest from Madrid. The Spanish giants have a history of getting their man when they set their sights on a potential target.

Although Brazilian Emerson is first choice, Real will move for Vieira if they fail in that bid. Third parties have let the French international know of Real's intentions - much to Arsenal's fury.

But while they may not be able to match Real's [pounds sterling]100,000a-week wages, they are able to increase Vieira's salary from the [pounds sterling]55,000 a week he currently earns.

Yesterday, at the compact stadium in the adjoining village, Vieira joined in his first full training session with the rest of the squad. The thunderstorms of Saturday night had abated and given way to a more pleasant sun and high cloud.

Business as usual and the only references to Real came in the form of the occasional jokes. No one at Arsenal feels that Vieira will be leaving. Real are reported to be offering [pounds sterling]20million-plus which may be temptingfor a 28-year-old whose value will now only decrease. And while the player is not irreplaceable, he is highly influential.

They want him to stay and Vieira has certainly given no indication to his team-mates that he won't be leading them out against Everton at Goodison Park on the first day of the Premiership season.

He is training as usual, acting normally and taking the same verbal stick as anyone. …

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