Football: Interview - Patrick Vieira: I'm Staying to Give and Learn as a Loyal Gunner; ARSENAL'S WORLD BEATER HAS A MESSAGE TO WARM HIGHBURY HEARTS
McCarthy, Paul, The People (London, England)
THE edifice may show signs of crumbling, ravaged by Spaniards only too determined and happy to plunder. Yet the central column stands unmoved by a summer of transfer madness.
Barcelona came calling with their bags of gold, and Arsene Wenger was forced to succumb, powerless to resist the lure of the Nou Camp, once Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars had had their heads turned towards Catalonia.
But any distress - and there was room for tears - would have been tempered by the delight that nobody had managed to tempt Arsenal into parting with the one commodity Wenger admires above all, a player around whom Highbury will be rebuilt in the coming season. Patrick Vieira.
"Manu and Marc left Arsenal because they felt that was the next stage of their careers," claims the Fench midfield gem.
"But for me, there is still so much to learn. Arsenal have shown that for the next few years they want to remain as one of the major clubs and my ambition is to stay here and to grow with the club.
"Barcelona are a bigger club than Arsenal, yet I prefer to stay here and learn what I have to learn to go that next step up. When you look around at everything here, I think Arsenal are still improving and want to move up as well.
"Manu and Marc leaving was a huge surprise to me. I came back from holiday, picked up the papers, saw they were going to Barcelona and it was the first I knew of it.
"I know Manu really well and we'll miss each other, but that's football. It will be strange without him, but we'll speak to each other on the phone."
Vieira's lack of sentimentality at the loss of his French pal is in sharp contrast to the sight of Petit blubbering when asked to consider life without his running mate and, it has to be said, bodyguard when things got a little hairy for the pony-tailed one.
It's this strength of character which sees countless experts place the younger man ahead of his erstwhile colleague. He's the closest thing in the Premiership to Roy Keane, sharing the same drive and fury, winning the admiration of the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and allowing Arsenal fans to believe life hasn't come to an end at Highbury.
In such high esteem is the 24-year-old from Senegal held that Wenger is reported to be ready to improve his wages by pounds 10,000 a week.
He could also be earmarking him as a future Arsenal captain when the ravages of time finally catch up with Tony Adams. Flattery doesn't come any higher.
Flattery, though, works both ways and Vieira seems to have become imbued with the traditions of Highbury to a far greater extent than any of the apparent mercenaries who have passed through in recent years.
It may have something to do with Wenger reviving a career that was going nowhere on the sidelines in Milan, or the fact there's still an ounce of decency around despite everything you've read and heard about our top players.
"If you want to be Arsenal captain, you have to have given something to the club," Vieira insists. …