To appreciate Patrick Vieira’s best qualities as a manager, you need only watch him work a room. Whether it be a room filled with his own players, or one filled with media or fans, Vieira carries a level of confidence and charisma that never left him as he made the transition from trophy-winning player to aspiring coach.
The French World Cup winner has always cut an imposing figure going back to his days as a dominant midfielder, but since diving into management he has established himself as the cerebral leader and proponent of attacking soccer you would expect from a disciple of Arsene Wenger.
It is those qualities that have made Vieira a popular candidate to replace his former manager even though, to many in Europe, he has spent the past three years working in obscurity in the United States.
Vieira embarked on his first foray into professional management in 2016, when he took over Major League Soccer’s New York City FC. He left behind his post as manager of Manchester City’s reserve team and inherited a fledgling MLS club that endured a terrible first season prior to his arrival.
Vieira immediately transformed the club into one of better teams in the league, and has continued to build on that early success. Heading into this weekend’s derby showdown with the New York Red Bulls, Vieira’s NYCFC sits atop the MLS standings with the most points in the league.
Is that enough of a resume to convince Arsenal to hand over the task of replacing Wenger to a manager with fewer than three full years of first-team management experience?
Those who haven’t had an opportunity to see Vieira’s work in New York up close might have their doubts, but the sentiment in MLS, both within NYCFC and around the league, is that Vieira has already established himself as an excellent manager who is improving rapidly as he gains experience.
“For us in MLS it’s an honor to have (Vieira) in the league,” FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja told Goal after NYCFC’s recent win against FC Dallas. “He’s an excellent coach who I have great respect for. His teams have a clear identity and he has done a very good job with New York.”
Vieira’s NYCFC has scored the most goals in MLS over the past three seasons, playing an attractive possession-based game that fits well with the pedigree he developed as a long-time captain for Arsenal. Led by World Cup-winning Spanish striker David Villa, NYCFC has taken to Vieira’s style, as well as his approach to handling a squad with players ranging from teenagers to older superstars.
“He has a great mentality, he has a great personality, good motivation to the team,” Villa said of Vieira. “Every player learns from him day by day to be better, not only as a team but as individual players.”
“He has a humility to listen and learn and reflect after every game and the decisions that he made,” NYCFC director of football operations Claudio Reyna told Goal. “That’s why you could see him just getting better and better. With experience and time he’s only gotten better managing situations and the day to day of a football club.”
Vieira can be described as a player’s coach, but even though he can often be seen wearing a wide smile, Vieira is hardly what you would call a soft coach.
“(Vieira) is a very personable coach, but he’s really demanding as well,” NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson told Goal. “He finds the right balance of just knowing every individual in the team. Every player is held to the same expectation and he lets that be known from the first day. Everybody who comes to the club knows that no man is above the club.”
Vieira’s composed demeanor, combined with leadership qualities he honed from his days as Arsenal captain, has made man management one of his strengths. As for the tactical side of things, Vieira has seen his biggest growth as a manager in that area.
“I think I’ve improved in the way that we are preparing the game and our game plan,” Vieira said. “I think our game plan today is much better than it was in the first year. I think having a clear idea about the way we want to play, what I want from players in each position. Regarding the formation I want to use. I am better than I was a few years ago.”
As focused as Vieira is on NYCFC at the moment, he wasn’t shy about making it clear he believes he has already grown enough as a manager to succeed at a high-profile club like Arsenal. Whether he eventually winds up coaching the Gunners, or is groomed as Pep Guardiola’s successor at Manchester City, Vieira’s jump to Europe’s top-flight seems inevitable.
For those who might question whether three years coaching in MLS is enough to prepare Vieira, he makes it clear that it is.
“If the question is if I’m ready,” Vieira said, “Yes, I’m ready.”