23 June: It’s Patrick Vieira’s birthday

Patrick Vieira born in Dakar, Senegal in 1976.  Qualifying for French citizenship he played for Cannes, and made two appearances for Milan before they unexpectedly released him, and Mr Wenger bought him, while he was still managing in Japan.

After he stopped playing, on 11 June 2018, Vieira was appointed as the manager of OGC Nice.  On 4 December 2020, OGC Nice announced Patrick Vieira was no longer the manager of the club after a run of 5 losses in a row in all competitions and elimination from the group stage of the Europa League.  He is now manager of Crystal Palace.

My opening memory of Vieira was Arsenal v Sheffield Wednesday on 16 September 1996.   Bruce Rioch had been removed from his position and the unknown (in Britain) Arsene Wenger had been put in his place.  Thus far we had won 2, drawn 2, and lost 1 under Pat Rice.  Mr Wenger was still in Japan seeing the season out, showing us for the first time how honourable a man he is.  And we heard that there were already signings being done in his absence.

Which was a sign of what was to come.  Here was a man who knew everything about football.  He knew Arsenal, he knew Milan, he knew Patrick.  And he knew Milan were making one hell of a mistake by leaving Patrick to rot in the reserves.  So he ordered the club to buy Patrick Vieira, for £3.5m.

Of course, we’d never heard of him, and a reserve player for that price didn’t sound groundbreaking.  We were, frankly, hoping for a bit more from the new manager.

Worse, Patrick was injured when he came to us, so we didn’t see him.  Anyway, with a team of Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Jensen, Bould, Linighan, Platt, Wright, Parlour, Harston and Merson we knocked Sheffield Wednesday around for a 4-1 victory (a Wright hat trick caused most of the damage).

Then into this match came Patrick as a sub for Platt.  And we watched this young man with mouths open.   And I remember, saying to my pal Roger: “Look at that new guy Vieira.  He’s just taken total control of the centre.  He’s running the team and the match, and he’s only been playing for 5 minutes.”

I was astounded and I think most of us at that match were.  It was an extraordinary impact that  Patrick made on his debut.  It was extraordinary from the start. (I even once met him – and was amazed at just how huge he was.  Me, 5 feet 8 inches.  Him towering up to the sky).

He won three League trophies and four FA Cups.  After leaving us he made the awful error of going to Juve, who were relegated for their part in “irregularities”.  But he recovered, and indeed Patrick played 107 times for France and won the World Cup and Euro 2000 with them.   And this from a man we bought for £3.5m.

Perhaps most of all we remember that Patrick was the captain of the Invincibles – the greatest Arsenal team ever.   And to round off my personal tribute, I remember also of course the final game of that amazing season.  We had won the league, and just needed a draw against relegated Leicester to become unbeaten.  Sir Alex had made comments to the fact that he remembered being in a Rangers side unbeaten all season who had lost the last game.  As if there was a comparison.

But, of course, we went one-nil down at half time.  I was shaking – literally shaking – through the half time break.  Couldn’t even have a drink.  I just sat there thinking, this can’t happen.  And then, if I recall it right, Henry got the penalty and Patrick scored to give us the winner.  It just had to be Patrick.

One last memory.  28 March 2006  – he played against us in the Champs League.  That was the moment Robert Pires tackled him, and got the ball – and from that moment we went on to score.  Sorry Patrick – but if you must leave Arsenal, these things happen!

Patrick played 407 times for Arsenal and scored 34 goals.  I don’t kid myself that ex-players would ever read my ramblings – but still, it feels good to be able to pay my personal compliments to one of the Masters.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

100 Years: 100 Years in the First Division

Arsenal today: Untold Arsenal 

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