Patrick Vieira: Arsenal icon to Crystal Palace’s thoughtful manager

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Patrick Vieira
Vieira has handled what could have been difficult early days at Palace impressively

Two defeats in 11 Premier League games and notable wins against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City – it is fair to say Patrick Vieira is doing an impressive job at Crystal Palace.

After taking over from Roy Hodgson, few expected the former Arsenal captain to perform as well as he has given a relatively unremarkable career in management prior to his arrival in London.

But those who have been involved in his journey from the day he retired as a player and stepped into coaching are not surprised he is flourishing.

A reluctant coach who found drive in youth development

Becoming a manager was not a natural progression from playing for Vieira. In fact, it was not a move he was particularly keen on at all.

In 2011, with his playing career winding down at Manchester City, Vieira spent time in different roles at the club, acting as a club ambassador and meeting VIPs before games at Etihad Stadium as he tried to decide the path he would take when he finally hung up his boots.

But it was direction from the former Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday winger Brian Marwood – then working as football administration officer at Manchester City – that Vieira credits with turning his head towards management.

“When I stopped playing I didn’t know which way I was going to take,” Vieira said. “I was lucky to have Brian next to me and guide me and open my mind on the managerial side.

“He pushed me to spend time with the kids at the academy at Manchester City and the more time I spent there the more I loved being around the players. I fell in love with the job.”

Learning the trade in Wales

If the passion to get into coaching was sparked by a former Arsenal player and on the training pitches in east Manchester then Vieira’s management style and philosophy was crafted on the outskirts of Newport.

Deciding where to take his coaching badges, Vieira took up a recommendation from ex-France team-mate and former Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly to head to Dragon Park – the home of Welsh football.

Vieira said in 2013 he was drawn to Wales’ National Football Development Centre because he felt it had an environment he would feel comfortable learning in, where there were “no egos and everyone was treated the same”.

Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira
Vieira was one of a number of big-name footballers to turn to the Football Association of Wales’ coaching programme

It seems he was not alone in that thought and some of his class-mates included former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez and ex-Wales forward Craig Bellamy.

All were cutting their teeth alongside other football players nearing the end of their careers as well as managers in the Welsh Premier League.

Former Crystal Palace defender Craig Harrison was on the same course as Vieira when he was manager of TNS.

Harrison had faced Vieira on the football pitch but remembers a very different person to the combative and aggressive opponent from his playing days.

“Patrick was a very ferocious player, he is a big guy, he is very intimidating to look at because of his size but he is such a nice guy,” he told BBC Sport.

“He is very softly spoken, he is quiet. He is not overly aggressive when he is coaching or when he is talking. He is methodical in what he is trying to do.

“He is very thoughtful. The Patrick Vieira a lot of people will have seen in his playing days – fighting it out with Roy Keane – isn’t the Patrick Vieira that comes across in person.

“He is a very family-oriented guy, very knowledgeable about football. He is obsessed by it and I think if you are going to go to the top you need to be obsessed with it.”

A friend, a mentor but also a hard taskmaster

Jack Harrison
Vieira is credited with playing a big role in the development of Leeds midfielder Jack Harrison

Those characteristics were also evident when he took up his first senior management role as head coach of Major League Soccer side New York City in November 2015.

With a mix of big-name stars from European football such as Andrea Pirlo, David Villa and Frank Lampard on the books, mixed with local players with only MLS experience, Vieira faced a testing start in terms of managing those personalities.

Former United States youth international Ethan White was at New York City when Vieira arrived and remembers a manager who had no trouble bringing the dressing room together.

He told BBC Sport: “As you can see now at Palace players very quickly buy into the system – both because of the amount of respect they will have for him because of his name but also because of what he is like as a person.

“He almost comes across as a friend but also a mentor.”

He may have seemed a friend for the most part, but he was not afraid to come down hard on players when needed – as White himself experienced.

After arriving late to a pre-game meeting one day because of traffic, the defender was immediately dropped from the starting XI for the match.

“He is the captain of the ship – hard at the right times and soft at the right times,” said White. “I understood that he had rules in place and you respected that.”

Vieira’s coaching roots in the youth teams of Manchester City also came to the fore at NYC and White credits him with turning Jack Harrison – now at Leeds – into the player he is today.

The midfielder came through the youth system at the club, with Vieira mentoring and nurturing the youngster as he eased him into first-team football.

“Jack benefited greatly from Patrick,” added White. “I really think he helped him blossom.”

Success in New York, but trouble in Nice

Patrick Vieira
Vieira endured an unsettled time at Nice with changes of ownership following his arrival

Vieira did well at NYC, guiding them to fourth in his first season before a runners-up finish in his second, and when an opportunity to manage in his native France came up in 2018 with Nice, he took it.

But his time in the south of France showed how important it is for Vieira to surround himself with people he trusts and who believe in him.

Key to his decision to take up the role at Nice were club president Jean-Pierre Rivere and sporting director Julian Fournier, who worked hard to convince him to come. But a change in ownership just months after Vieira’s arrival led to their departure.

Despite changes behind the scenes, Vieira did manage to guide the club to seventh in Ligue 1 in his first season – one place better than they had in the campaign before his arrival – and then fifth the year after.

But with increasing expectations plus criticism of his playing style and use of players, things started to unravel quickly.

Five successive defeats in the first few months of his third season at the club were enough to see Vieira sacked.

The right team and the right manager?

Conor Gallagher
Conor Gallagher was on the bench for England against San Marino on Monday

As soon as Vieira was appointed Crystal Palace boss in the summer he ensured he had people around him once again who he trusted and believed in.

His assistant, Osian Roberts, was the technical director at the Football Association of Wales and oversaw the coaching programme Vieira attended.

Together, along with the rest of Vieira’s coaching staff, they set about resolving the many issues at Palace, not least 12 out-of-contract players.

Many of that dozen left, allowing Vieira to shape his own squad. He replaced an ageing defence with younger players in Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen and brought in other exciting youngsters such as 19-year-old Michael Olise and and 21-year-old Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher on loan.

Once again his background in nurturing youth has been evident, with Gallagher in particular flourishing under the Frenchman.

He has scored four goals in 10 Premier League appearances, having been played in a more advanced attacking role by Vieira, and that form led to him earning a first England call-up earlier this week.

It is still early days for Vieira at Palace, but so far he is proving a very good fit for the Eagles – suggesting his decision to push aside his initial reluctance to become a manager was eventually an astute one.

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