Date: 23rd June 2018 at 5:00pm
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So how exactly do you become a Club Hero? Is it that one magical moment? Is it years of dedication?

Here at Shoot! we pride ourselves on reviewing those players who are most fondly remembered by football clubs up and down the land.

Celebrating his 42nd birthday this evening is Arsenal great Patrick Vieira, as we look back on the Frenchman’s incredible influence at the North London outfit.

The central midfield powerhouse is regarded as one of the best players of the Premier League era, as well as enjoying success with the France national team, winning the 1998 FIFA World Cup and 2000 UEFA European Championship.

Vieira scored 33 goals in 407 appearances in all competitions for The Gunners between 1996 and 2005, winning ten honours under legendary manager Arsene Wenger – three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and three FA Community Shields.

Born in Dakar, Senegal, before him and his family moved to France when he was eight-years-old, he started his senior career at Cannes, where he made his first-team debut aged just 17, and captained the side just two years later.

In the summer of 1995, a highly rated Vieira was snapped up by Italian giants AC Milan, but he made just two senior appearances for the San Siro outfit, before his big break in London.

In August 1996, after failing to agree personal terms with Dutch side Ajax, Arsenal swooped in to sign the central midfielder for a reported £3.5m.

A major influence in his decision to join The Gunners was the impending arrival of manager Wenger, who was officially appointed boss in October 1996.

After an unconvincing short spell in Italy, Vieira arrived at Highbury as a related unknown, only for him to become a club legend and tipped as a future manager of the Premier League side.

Alongside his fellow countryman Wenger, he helped shape the foundations for success in North London with some unprecedented records being set along the way.

In the heart of Arsenal’s team, Vieira blossomed into one of the world’s finest defensive midfielders. He had a remarkable footballing brain, read the game expertly, had a magnificent passing ability, always put his team mates first and was athletic, powerful and almost impossible to shoulder barge off the ball, as well as popping up at the right time to net some significant strikes.

During his first full season at Highbury, he helped Arsenal to the ‘Double’ in 1997-98, lifting the Premier League title and FA Cup after defeating Newcastle United 2-0 in the final.

Vieira celebrates scoring at North London rivals Tottenham.

After another ‘Double’ triumph in 2001-02, and following the departure of skipper Tony Adams, the Frenchman was named club captain in the summer of 2002, an appointment which helped cool his ill-discipline.

Vieira was sent off eight times in the Premier League – tied with Duncan Ferguson and Richard Dunne for the most red cards in the competition overall – and was dismissed 10 times for The Gunners in all competitions.

Come the summer of 2003, speculation intensified over Vieira’s future with The Gunners, with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid eager to lure the midfield maestro away from Highbury.

However, the Frenchman put pen to paper on a new contract until 2007, before kick-starting a spectacular 2003-04 season in North London.

Arsenal regained the Premier League title from Manchester United’s grasps as they became the first English team in more than a century to go through the entire league campaign unbeaten.

‘The Invincibles’ team finished 11 points clear of runners-up Chelsea in the top-flight standings, with a remarkable record – Played: 38, Won: 26, Drew: 12, Lost: 0.

Individually, Vieira scored three goals in 44 games in all competitions that season, including a key strike against North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in April 2004 to secure a 2-2 draw and be crowned league champions once more.

Then, against Leicester City on the final day of the season, the central midfielder captained The Gunners to a 2-1 victory at Highbury to accomplish their unbeaten campaign, netting the winner in the 66th minute following Thierry Henry’s second-half equaliser.

Arsene Wenger and Vieira hold up the 2003-04 Premier League trophy after Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ season.

After Arsenal’s amazing season, La Liga giants Real Madrid were strongly linked with luring Vieira to the Bernabeu, with club president Florentino Perez declaring his love for the Frenchman, insisting he was the best player in the world in his position.

After a reported £18m bid was offered, captain Vieira snubbed Madrid’s approach and decided to stay at Highbury ahead of the 2004-05 campaign, where Arsenal finished 12 points behind champions Chelsea in second spot.

However, the Senegal-born star helped The Gunners clinch their third FA Cup in eight years after defeating Manchester United 5-4 (0-0 AET) on penalties at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, with the midfielder netting the winning spot-kick.

A fitting way for Vieira’s final kick in an Arsenal shirt, before he did leave North London after nine years, agreeing a five-year contract with Italian giants Juventus following his reported £13.75m transfer.

He scored just five goals in 42 games for the Turin outfit, managed by former England boss Fabio Capello, as Juve originally won the Serie A title, before being shockingly stripped of the honour following the the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal, which saw the champions demoted to 20th place and therefore relegated to Serie B.

As part of a summer shake-up, Vieira moved to Italian rivals Inter Milan in the summer of 2006, putting pen to paper on a four-year deal at the San Siro.

He went on to net nine goals in 91 outings for Inter, winning a sublime four successive Serie A titles (2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-2010) and two Supercoppa Italianas.

But halfway through his final 2009-10 term, having fallen out of favour at the San Siro, Vieira made a surprise return to English football, agreeing an initial six-month deal with Manchester City in January 2010.

He netted one goal in 14 games for Roberto Mancini’s Citizens, before agreeing a one-year extension at the Etihad Stadium in June 2010, and scored five times in 32 appearances for the club in 2010-2011, as City defeated Stoke City 1-0 in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium, with the Arsenal hero coming on as a last-minute substitute.

That cameo role at Wembley proved to be his final outing as a player, as the midfielder decided to announce his retirement from playing football in July 2011, and accepted a training and youth development role at Manchester City with the title of Football Development Executive.

Vieira featuring for Arsenal during Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial match back in July 2006.

Since then, he has enjoyed becoming head coach of New York City FC in America, becoming the first black head coach in MLS history, and was only recently appointed manager of Ligue 1 outfit OGC Nice back in France ahead of the 2018-19 campaign.

As Vieira prepares and relishes for his next challenge in management, the Frenchman will forever fondly be remembered for playing a key role in establishing Arsenal as one of the biggest clubs in England.

During his Gunners career, he was named in the PFA Team of the Year for six successive seasons between 1998 and 2004, as well as being crowned Premier League Player of the Season in 2000-01.

Other gongs include being included in the 2001 UEFA Team of the Year and Premier League Overseas Team of the Decade (1992-93 to 2001-02), before being entered into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

A true Club Hero.

Written by Dan Church


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