Exclusive by Steve Brenner in New York
Patrick Vieira is open to the opportunity of returning to Arsenal after the end of Arsène Wenger’s 22-year reign.
The Frenchman, who is managing New York City in MLS, admitted that it would be difficult to leave his role within the City Football Group, but he said he was ready to coach in Europe.
Vieira has worked for CFG since 2013, first as a reserve team and academy coach in Manchester before moving to the United States. He sees his immediate future in New York but, with a three-year deal signed in November 2015 set to expire before the end of this year, Vieira would not dismiss the chance of going back to Arsenal, where he became an international star under Wenger.
Mikel Arteta, another former Arsenal midfielder who is embedded within the CFG network working as Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City, is well thought of by the Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis as the search for Wenger’s replacement begins.
Vieira has not been contacted by the Emirates hierarchy but his work in MLS — New York are top of the Eastern Conference having made their best start to a season — has not gone unnoticed.
“I mentally know what’s going on, what people are saying,” Vieira told The Times at the opening of the Etihad City Football Academy in New York. “And I’m really happy about that because I think it’s good to have your name linked with a team like Arsenal. But honestly it’s not something which will stop me doing what I am doing at the moment.”
The emotional pull for the former Arsenal captain is, however, impossible to ignore. A return to north London would undoubtedly reinvigorate a disenchanted Arsenal fan base who have vociferously demanded change. “It’s an honour to be mentioned with Arsenal,” he said. “It was somewhere I spent nine years and I love the club. I played my best football there and made my name in the game. I am always going to have a deeper relationship with Arsenal. That [alone] is not enough to coach that team but I’m ready to coach any side in Europe.
“I don’t want this to be perceived that I want to go because I don’t want to leave. But, if the question is as simple as, ‘Are you ready to manage any teams in Europe?’ then I would say yes. I am ready. I think we’re all doing this job because one day we want to coach the biggest teams in Europe,” he said. “Just like when you’re a player, you want to play for the biggest clubs.”
The former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique remains a frontrunner to replace Wenger but a move for Vieira, whether it be in a managerial or coaching capacity, would leave CFG in a quandary.
“If the call came it would be really difficult,” Vieira admitted. “It would be difficult because we will be in the middle of the season. And, like every time I’ve been approached by any teams, I’m sitting with the guys from the CFG and will let them know. They will make the decision because I’m under contract.”
Wenger’s departure has saddened Vieira. “I think it is hard with the way he has been treated,” Vieira said. “I do understand that fans can get frustrated but they forget about yesterday. Fans live in the moment but that’s the world we are living in. Arsène has been there for 22 years but how many times did he have the opportunity to go to coach bigger names than Arsenal yet never did because his priority was Arsenal? Sometimes fans forget that.”
So will we see Wenger manage again? “I don’t see him retiring at all,” Vieira smiled. “I think he’s still got the energy, love and passion to stay in the game. It was time maybe at Arsenal but I’m sure that he can rebuild something, somewhere.”