Arsenal's Patrick Vieira celebrates scoring their first goal against Tottenham during the FA Cup Semi Final game at Old Trafford, Manchester, Sunday April 8, 2001. Arsenal defeated Tottenham 2-1. (AP Photo/PA, David Davies)
Almost immediately after news broke that Arsène Wenger will soon end his 22-year career as Arsenal’s manager, Patrick Vieira’s name was mentioned among a list of potential candidates for his replacement.
The New York City FC coach, who played for Arsenal under Wenger from 1996-2005, spoke exclusively to Pro Soccer USA about the numerous reports of him being considered to replace his former boss.
“I am always flattered to hear my name linked with different football clubs, because that is good for your ego, I would say. But at the same time, ya know, I am happy here. Of course, spending nine years at Arsenal made this club really special for me because of the quality of time I had over there, the relationship that I had with the fans, but that’s not, of course that is not enough to pretend of (sic) going there and coaching the team … I am happy where I am, and we will see what will happen in the next couple of years.”
Vieira has in the past conveyed disappointment with Wenger for not considering former Arsenal players — including himself — for assistant coaching positions. Vieira eventually joined the Manchester City coaching troupe and used his position with the club’s Elite Development Squad to earn promotion as the head coach of MLS sister club NYCFC.
But after Wenger announced Friday morning that 2018 would be his last year with the Gunners, Vieira expressed a genuine appreciation for his longtime manager.
“I think it is a sad day for Arsenal Football Club because somebody who gave a lot to the football club that is leaving is sad,” Vieira said. “And I personally wish him all the best and at the same time thank him for what he gave me as a player.”
Nine seasons at Arsenal under Wenger were formative for Vieira. He won three English Premier League titles and captained the “Invincibles” to a remarkable undefeated season in 2004.
“I was at Arsenal when I was 19, 20 years old and I left when I was 29,” Vieira said. “I got there when I was a kid and left as a man, and as a better football player and a better person as well. He really helped me to grow as a player, but also as a human being and a person.”
Vieira believes he and others owe a debt to Wenger, who was the first successful foreign manager in the EPL and had a style that transformed the game.
“He changed everything at Arsenal. He changed the way that players in general, including myself, conducted ourselves off the field,” Vieira said. “What we are eating, what we are drinking, how we do our stretching. I think he made us understand that if we wanted to play at a higher level for the next 10-15 years, there is a way we needed to conduct ourselves. He explained how professional we needed to be to be a top football player. I think that was a massive help for young players like myself, but it was also a massive help for the English guys who was at Arsenal at that time.”
Despite slighting Vieira when he first retired as a player and wanted to break into coaching, Wenger reportedly endorsed his French compatriot as his successor.
“He’s a guy who has the potential one day, yes,” Wenger said, according to ESPN.
Listen: Patrick Vieira on Arsène Wenger, Arsenal job