Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Vieira U-Turn Gives; Arsenal the Real Edge Pat on the Back: After Being Linked with a Move to Real Madrid, Arsenal Captain Patrick Vieira Will Now Be Staying at Highbury

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Vieira U-Turn Gives; Arsenal the Real Edge Pat on the Back: After Being Linked with a Move to Real Madrid, Arsenal Captain Patrick Vieira Will Now Be Staying at Highbury

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL HART

Michael Hart reports on the long, drawn-out saga of the Arsenal captain's on-off move to Real Madrid and says Arsene Wenger can look forward with confidence to the club's bid to win back-to-back titles

THE real irony of Patrick Vieira's decision to stay at Arsenal is that he made it just at the point when the club and supporters seemed to have accepted that life would go on if he left.

Only yesterday a gloomy Arsene Wenger admitted he was not "genuinely optimistic" about the chances of his captain staying.

Experienced Wenger watchers thought this significant.

This was the first time in the whole saga Arsenal's manager had even conceded the possibility he might lose the battle to keep the club's captain.

Perhaps he was just having us all on.

Vieira has been the life force in Arsenal's midfield in the last few years and there is no doubt Real Madrid believe his energy and experience could be used just as productively in Spain.

But, ultimately, they were not prepared to pay the sort of money both Arsenal and Vieira were seeking.

There is no doubt that if a deal was to be done it had to be done quickly and, as this week unravelled, it became increasingly obvious the sticking points were not being removed.

Vieira seemed genuinely torn about his future. He knows he enjoys a unique position at Highbury, where he is respected perhaps above any other player and enjoys a unique relationship with Wenger.

His ability to win the ball, or receive it from his defenders and immediately set up an attack with a cunning pass, sets him apart among the fetchers and carriers in the Premiership.

That wasn't always the case - and he owes much to Wenger for his development.

I remember his uncertain attempts to establish a rapport with the likes of Adams and Bould, Platt and Merson in the late summer of 1996.

He'd been languishing at AC Milan when Wenger, still to officially take over at Highbury, persuaded Arsenal to pay [pounds sterling]3.5 million for him.

To be honest, he didn't look like a World Cup winner in those days.

"You wait," said Pat Rice, in temporary charge before Wenger's arrival. "I watch him in training every day. This boy is going to be great."

And so it proved. He has been a towering figure in three Premiership title winning teams.

Of course the lure of Madrid must have been strong but had he gone to the Bernabeu he knew he would not have enjoyed anything like the same status he enjoys at Highbury.

He might have ended up as little more than a glorified ball winner - a sort of elevated Claude Makelele - for the more cherished talents of Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham.

Perhaps Vieira took one look into the future and decided the present was so bad after all. …

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