Patrick Vieira: It's harder the second time round
Patrick Vieira's best days are behind him but his experience will be a useful asset in the Eastlands dressing room, says Dion Fanning
The arrival of Patrick Vieira at Manchester City does not illustrate how far the club has come, but the distance it still has to go. Juan Sebastian Veron's comments that he turned down an offer to join Vieira at Eastlands suggests that Roberto Mancini may not get there with them.
The analysis of Mancini's first few weeks in English football has centred on praise for the defensive solidity he has brought to the side and orgiastic utterances about his handmade shoes and bespoke suits. Sometimes a man need only wear matching socks for the observers of English football to hail his dress sense and sometimes a manager need only keep clean sheets against Stoke City, Wolves and Middlesbrough for the same observers to roll out their italicised Italian phrases which they feel are the only possible way they can do his achievements justice.
Management, unlike style, is not just about believing that whatever you are doing is right, although it helps. If it was, the signing of Vieira would be a success. Instead it offers more questions than answers. Mancini's reported attempt to sign Veron would have provided answers but not necessarily good ones for Manchester City.
Internazionale's game against Chelsea next month will be the latest demonstration of the decline of Italian football, yet those who work in it seem unable, perhaps understandably, to acknowledge its failure.
Italian football had a way of playing once that is still acknowledged whenever an Italian team concedes sloppy goals. "Most un-Italian," somebody will say and they would have been right about 20 years ago. Now Italian sides defend like Kevin Keegan's and it is only the absence of real creative talent in the league that disguises this.
But when they face the top English and Spanish sides in the Champions League, that fact is always conclusively proven. Last December, Bayern showed it too when they went to Turin and scored four against a Juventus side that had just beaten Inter.
Mourinho's Inter could find no place for Vieira that night but they rarely could and if he was unable to fill the role in Italy that he has been bought to fill at Manchester City -- supposedly sit in front of the back four -- he will not be able to do it in England.
When Giovanni Trapattoni compares the English Premier League unfavourably to Serie A, he is talking about another age, an age he helped create. Trapattoni may see something reckless and thoughtless in the English game, but there is nothing studied in Italian football any more, just the sight of teams battling against their own extensive limitations.
Mancini's decision to return to Italy for a player who could not get in the Inter side suggests he has yet to find this out. If he had managed to persuade Veron to return from South America, he might have discovered it.
Vieira, instead, may be asked to become a symbol but a non-playing one. He was one of the great Premier League players, an outstanding demonstration of everything Arsene Wenger wanted from a footballer.
Vieira was Wenger's advance man at Arsenal. He made his debut at Highbury against Sheffield Wednesday while Wenger was still in Japan, coming on as a sub for Ray Parlour.
He immediately became an automatic choice and I remember his full home debut against Sunderland before Wenger had arrived and watching as Vieira changed the dimensions of the game and gave a warning of what was to come.
Vieira represented Wenger far more than any player, even Henry. At their best, Arsenal could fight as well as play and Vieira was as ready as any of them, only when the fighting spirit of the others diminished did he seem lost.
Vieira could be victimised by referees and Wenger's refusal to admit he had witnessed any misdemeanour by one of his players came from an unwillingness to provide more ammunition for those he believed were persecuting his side.
Wenger defended him, but after a number of summers fighting off interest from around Europe, Wenger took Juventus's offer in 2005, getting good money as he always does, but selling at the right time, as he usually does as well.
His side backed his judgement when they cruised past Juventus in the quarter-finals of the Champions League that season with Vieira overshadowed by Cesc Fabregas, who was the new breed. Wenger had gone a different way, but he would never have abandoned Vieira at the top of his game as he has shown by his search since for a player who could resemble him.
Some have suggested that the game has changed and that Vieira was marginalised because he could not play within the new rules in which tackling vigorously is frowned upon. Vieira has been marginalised because his body cannot do the things he wants it to do, not because it is not allowed to do the things it would like by referees.
Mancini has brought a player who has achieved everything and who glides gracefully across every situation. He may value him in a dressing room that still needs authoritative voices.
Vieira, too, can be an agent for the change Manchester City hope to bring about. The summer will be the test of their appeal and maybe Mancini felt that Vieira, who is getting paid £150,000 a week, could spread the word. Veron might have done the same.
It is hard to see Vieira making the impact on the field so he may be a new type of global ambassador and one that only a club like Manchester City are capable of employing.
He has said the right things, compared City to the Arsenal team he led to such success, joked abut his rivalry with Roy Keane and Manchester United and dealt easily with all the lines of inquiry that have no relevance to what he will now have to do.
He will be of great relevance to Mancini, showing if he can grasp that, while he may have a better dress sense, English football is superior to the Italian game.
Vieira came to London from a Milan side that would not pick him. He immediately demonstrated his immense talent and Wenger's genius. Doing the same trick and proving his manager's credentials will be harder this time round.