MARTIN KEOWN: Patrick Vieira has always been the boss! I watched him grab a senior Arsenal player by the throat in the dressing room at just 20 and it was clear he had all the tools to succeed as a player and coach
- It doesn’t surprise me Patrick Vieira is impressing as Crystal Palace’s manager
- Vieira showed great spirit to confront an Arsenal star shortly after joining
- After inheriting an ageing squad, Vieira has managed to improve Palace
I saw the personality before I got to see the player. Patrick joined Arsenal on August 14, 1996 and when he arrived, he pretended he didn’t speak English.
He signed on the same day as Remi Garde, who we knew as a tried-and-tested France international. But we didn’t know anything about the 20-year-old who walked in the door with him. He looked like he hadn’t filled out his frame yet, ungainly and hardly said a word to anyone.
One day a senior player was complaining about Patrick in the changing room. All in English — under the assumption Patrick wouldn’t understand. Well, he did. Patrick stood up, flew across the room, grabbed him by the throat and said in perfect English: ‘Why are you f***ing talking about me behind my back?’
Patrick Vieira wasn’t afraid to confront a senior Arsenal star shortly after joining the club
Here was this kid, new to the club, yet to make his debut for Arsenal, physically confronting one of the squad’s most senior members who shall remain nameless. I found it hilarious, I was clapping!
I knew then and there that we had signed a strong character. That was the personality — it wasn’t until the following month that I saw the player.
Patrick was brought on against Sheffield Wednesday and almost immediately played a 30-yard diagonal pass out to the wing. Highbury was in awe. There was applause, a chorus of ‘oohs’ and I knew we’d signed a special player.
Vieira was a huge success for Arsenal and it isn’t surprising that he is succeeding as a manager
If I had the ball on the pitch, he was the player I’d look for. I’d pass to Patrick, who would pass to Dennis Bergkamp, who would pass to Thierry Henry, who would pass the ball into the goal. It all went through that man in our midfield who had that perfect cocktail of aggression, passing and playmaking. I believe he was the single biggest catalyst for Arsenal’s success — and it’s no surprise to me he is now succeeding as a manager.
I see in Crystal Palace’s players what I saw in Patrick all those years ago. He played in an uncompromising manner. He was aggressive and never thought he should be second best to anyone. Not even to his team-mate Emmanuel Petit, who had a little game-within-a-game competition with Patrick to be the best midfielder on the day.
Patrick’s demeanour during the week totally contrasted to how he performed at the weekend.
Vieira often competed with his team-mate Emmanuel Petit to be the best midfielder on the day
At the training ground, he was calm, relaxed, charming; someone very easy to get along with. I’d call him ‘Mr Floppy’ to his face because of how he was. I was always full-on when I trained and wanted to see if I could get more out of him. But Patrick simply wasn’t like that. He was dismissive — almost as if he didn’t feel he could give his all during the week and still have enough in the tank come the weekend.
Once Saturday arrived, though, he was completely different. He was tough, demanding of himself and everyone else. I expect his management style is somewhat similar to that approach which served him so well throughout his trophy-laden playing career.
When you can see a coach’s personality clearly spread throughout the team, that is about as big a compliment you can give to the person in charge. At Palace there is a desire in each player to be successful and they can dare to dream now they’re just 90 minutes from an FA Cup final.
It was a big call from Palace to go from having an experienced manager in Roy Hodgson to a relatively young coach. Patrick inherited an aging squad — Palace finished the 2020-21 Premier League season with the oldest average XI — and a team in transition, with more than a few players who were coming to the end of their contracts.
You can see Vieira’s personality throughout the Palace team, which is a very positive sign
Marc Guehi has been a key figure for Vieira’s side as he has produced some excellent displays
His priority was sorting out their defence and he did that by signing Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi, who have been the cornerstone of the club’s rebuild. Bringing in the effervescent Conor Gallagher on loan from Chelsea was a masterstroke — his absence in this semi-final is a big loss for Palace — and the emergence of Tyrick Mitchell from the academy has been a big boost.
To be a successful side you need the right man at the top. Patrick ended up being a natural successor to Tony Adams as Arsenal captain in 2002. It wasn’t even a discussion that needed to be had. He was instantly handed the armband because he was a leader.
He still is and, having learned from greats such as Arsene Wenger, Fabio Capello, Jose Mourinho, Roberto Mancini and Pep Guardiola, I only expect Patrick to go from strength to strength as a manager.