‘I am with Nice long-term,’ was Patrick Vieira’s response when asked in a pre-season press conference about rumours linking him with the then vacant Newcastle United post shortly after Rafa Benitez’s departure. ‘I have no intention of going to see what else is out there.’
For now, that is. It feels like it is written that Vieira will return to Arsenal in the future to manage the club that he once captained, but he currently remains short of the necessary experience for such a challenging position.
Entering his second campaign with Nice and after a slow start to life in Ligue 1, the 43-year-old boss has added to the bright reputation he carved out for himself with Major League Soccer side New York City between 2016-18.
Patrick Vieira takes charge of his Nice team during pre-season training in France
Vieira, who was world-class in his playing days, is building a new reputation as a manager
Despite some heavy pre-season defeats, Vieira’s stock as a manager is rising
Vieira, famed for his glittering club and international career in which he won the Premier League three times, Serie A four times and the World Cup and European Championship with France, oversaw a recovery in form that started around last November and continued after the maverick Mario Balotelli left for rivals Marseille.
When Ligue 1’s 2018-19 term was over, Nice had finished seventh, which was one place and two points better off than in Lucien Favre’s final season in charge before leaving Allianz Riviera for Borussia Dortmund.
It was also 10 places higher than Monaco, who started the season with Vieira’s former Arsenal team-mate Thierry Henry in charge. While Henry was sacked after just 20 games amid awful results and player revolt, Vieira made it safely through the season.
Vieira’s debut season with Le Gym was packed with learning experiences, such as regular issues with the likes of Balotelli and the Gucci headband-wearing Allan Saint-Maximin, who joined Newcastle this summer.
But the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship-winning former midfielder came out stronger on the other side and with his man-management skills enhanced.
Balotelli and Vieira endured a prickly relationship. Yet Vieira showed less of the confrontational character that is remembered from his playing career and instead persevered with the capricious Italian.
Vieira was captured on camera at one moment appealing to the enigmatic star to help his team-mates more after his one-time Inter Milan colleague had ranted about the team’s shortcomings.
The Frenchman is most closely associated with Arsenal, where he enjoyed great success
His fiery nature, as seen here in a clash with Roy Keane in 1999, defined his game
Vieira clearly recognised the enigmatic Balotelli’s talent and tried hard to focus him on the team but was unsuccessful and publicly recognised that failure as a ‘setback’ at the end of 2018 as Nice prepared to lose the fiery striker to Marseille.
With Saint-Maximin, Vieira took a different approach and was unafraid to go more public – likely down to the fact that Saint-Maximin, 22, has not achieved as much in football as Balotelli, 28.
At one moment, Vieira stated his scepticism over the young Frenchman’s illness when he missed a heavy defeat to Angers without club permission, before openly discussing the player’s attitude during a press conference towards the end of the season.
‘Unfortunately, Allan’s problem is that he thinks his talent is enough to take him to the very top,’ said Vieira. ‘He must understand that he needs to work, to sacrifice. He needs to suffer, which unfortunately, he has not yet understood.’
It remains to be seen whether those same drawbacks will thwart Saint-Maximin at Newcastle following his £20million transfer.
Vieira has earned praise for his honest managerial style during his first season on the Cote d’Azur and a popular video towards the end of last campaign depicted a passionate and intelligent football man taking his first steps into the logical post-playing phase of his career when addressing his team.
None of the passion and leadership skills that he boasted as a player have been lost, which evidently delighted many curious as to his working style, and that video was just one of a number to have shown the progress that Vieira is making as a tactician and a different sort of leader of men.
His role put him on collision course with volatile striker Mario Balotelli last season
Allan Saint-Maximin also felt the sharp end of Vieira’s tongue for not working hard enough
He might be less physically confrontational than he was when he was a player, but he has shown that he still does not suffer fools gladly and is vocal, as well as animated, when addressing his players and officials from the touchline.
PATRICK VIEIRA’S GLITTERING CAREER
Playing position: Centre midfield
Clubs: Cannes, AC Milan, Arsenal, Juventus, Inter Milan, Manchester City
International: France, 107 caps
1x World Cup
1x European Championship
3x Premier League
4x FA Cup
4x Serie A
New York City
Vieira is looking to make his mark on his squad as Nice build around the likes of talented young and hungry players such as Youcef Atal, Walter Benitez, Wylan Cyprien and Malang Sarr and start the 2019-20 campaign at the same consistency that his debut term finished with.
Petrochemicals magnate Sir Jim Ratcliffe – whose estimated net worth is £18billion – moved from Britain to nearby Monaco and is soon to take over at Nice. The opportunity that this presents means it makes sense that Vieira continues his work in France – for now.
The buyout has the potential to make the club a force in Ligue 1, and when you factor in the four-time French champions’ solid status as an outfit known for nurturing young talent, with good facilities and a lovely new stadium, Vieira’s situation seems to be a no-brainer.
With the right investment, the likes of Monaco, Marseille, Lille and even Lyon could be usurped by an ambitious Nice outfit in a matter of years.
However, intriguingly, the takeover could also pose Vieira some problems – notably in terms of his trust issues.
He has lasted far longer on the touchline than Thierry Henry, his former Arsenal team-mate
Nice are set for a big cash boost, but Vieira still looks likely to walk away for Arsenal in future
Former president Jean-Pierre Rivere and general manager Julien Fournier, who were at the club when he arrived, have since departed but been linked with a return under Ratcliffe.
Ex-Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has also been mooted for an influential role, but it is Rivere and Fournier’s potential returns that could complicate Vieira’s situation.
The French pair both left without warning Vieira, who felt betrayed, and his contract has subsequently had a clause written into it that he has the option to resign with one full year of salary paid if the two return.
Vieira is keen to retain former Arsenal team-mate Gilles Grimandi as technical director and Mathieu Louis-Jean as his recruitment chief, so securing that pair’s immediate future could help the new regime to keep their coach.
Although Nice have endured a negative pre-season – they suffered heavy defeats by Burnley and Wolfsburg – their home Ligue 1 opener on Saturday night against Amiens looks relatively straightforward and should ensure a fast start to the new campaign.
Despite a few friendly results and the drawn-out nature of Ratcliffe’s takeover, nobody is panicking — everything remains in place for improvement with Nice and further movement on an upwards trajectory in Ligue 1 before Vieira makes the jump to the Premier League.
This time next year, perhaps Vieira might feel that he is finally ready for that Premier League switch and with Unai Emery’s long-term future uncertain unless he breaks back into the Champions League, it could make for perfect timing.