Amy Lawrence has hailed Patrick Vieira as the Premier League’s best signing and, all things considered, it’s hard to argue.
In Lawrence’s piece for the Guardian, Premier League at 25: the best signing, she describes how, in 1996, a relatively unknown Frenchman from Milan signed for Arsenal for just £3.5m after Arsene Wenger intercepted his move to Ajax.
Nine years later and he was the best captain the Gunners have ever seen; a defensive midfielder with the finesse to dazzle, strength to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition, and attitude to rally the troops come hell or high water.
A player who, despite leaving Arsenal 12 years ago, is yet to be replaced.
Vieira’s debut for Arsenal came against Sheffield Wednesday on 16 September 1996 in a display which led the Times to label him as the “thinking man’s Carlton Palmer … who, at last, gives the Arsenal midfield some variety.”
After his full debut against Middlesbrough just three days later, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Vieira was the real deal.
Fellow Gunners Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright were among his biggest admirers, with Bergkamp describing him as “one of the first modern midfield players”.
Vieira was given the captain’s armband after Tony Adams retired in 2002, having already won the Premier League and FA Cup twice. He went on to lead his squad to another title, this one the biggest of them all, going an entire season unbeaten, as well as another FA Cup the following season.
He was voted into the PFA team of the year six times: 1998–99, 1999–00, 2000–01, 2001–02, 2002–03, 2003–04. And won player of the season in 2000/2001.
Vieira, was one of those players who didn’t just command respect from his own men – he dominated the Premier League for almost a decade. And it’s hard to recall another player who’s done the same.
As Amy Lawrence says, “Vieira’s idiosyncratic style redefined what a great central midfielder could look like on the blossoming Premier League scene.”