Patrick Vieira bit the hand that fed him last weekend but it won’t dent his popularity at Manchester City.
The Frenchman’s Crystal Palace side took a chunk out of the champions title aspirations with their statement 2-0 win at the Etihad.
There was a certain irony about the result given that Vieira was set on his managerial path by City where, a decade ago, he served a unique apprenticeship after hanging up his boots.
Back then he was earmarked as a possible future manager of the club and with Pep Guardiola’s tenure as boss currently scheduled to end at the end of next season, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that - if Vieira continues to pilot Palace on their upward trajectory - the World Cup winner’s name will be back in that conversation.
Vieira, the indomitable leader of Arsenal’s Invincibles, arrived in Manchester from Inter Milan and played the final 28 of his 456 club matches in sky blue.
In the grand scheme of things his three goals in that one completed campaign suggest a fairly insignificant input, but players and management alike at City insist it would be folly to underestimate Vieira’s contribution to the club breaking it’s four decade long trophy drought in 2011 - a triumph that served as a catalyst for five Premier League titles.
At a time when manager Roberto Mancini was trying to knit together his squad, Vieira’s towering presence and calm persona were major reasons the team won that year’s FA Cup and improved so rapidly.
Two of the players in the dressing room at the time, Micah Richards and Nigel de Jong, remain adamant that Vieira’s contribution to the City success story is both huge and underestimated.
“When players of his stature come into your dressing room, ones who have won everything and are revered, you half expect them to be arrogant and have an edge or expect different treatment but in Patrick’s case that couldn’t have been further from the truth,” said former England international Richards.
“On the pitch he could be horrible but off it he was humble, kind, considerate and supportive and he raised standards instantly just in the way he carried himself and with his professionalism.
“When we reached the FA Cup semi final against United in 2011 he gave one of the best dressing room speeches I’ve ever heard. He told us that no one liked it when an underdog arrived, that we were new kids on the block who few people wanted to succeed and that now was the time to stand up and be counted and make our fans proud.
“The win that day was a turning point and a day when we all looked at Patrick and knew he would make a very good manager. From what I’ve seen of Palace so far he has stuck to his footballing principles, they are a tough team to beat and I hope he goes on to a lot of success.”
Manager Mancini, as previously mentioned, was the man in charge when Vieira arrived. The Italian is adored by City fans to this day, but was not necessarily the easiest coach to work for. Part of Vieira’s role was to act as a liaison between the dressing room and a boss he knew well from their time together at Inter. It is a role Vieira took seriously and one that, according to De Jong, made a big difference.
“Patrick understood the dressing room dynamic so well,” said the Dutchman, who patrolled the same midfield patch at Vieira. “He is such a genuine dude. So professional and so caring. He took time to help the youngsters who might have been in awe of him. He was like a big brother to them.
“If there were any issues in the dressing room, Patrick would help sort them out and would regularly be the go-between with the manager. There was never a hint of any arrogance but his presence lifted everyone. He is a humorous guy but so serious about his football. I think everyone at City at that time would hope he goes on to have great success as a manager.
“I am sure the lads at Palace have already realised what a fine man manager Patrick is. He cares deeply about people.”
When Vieira called time on a storied playing career that brought him a World Cup winners medal, a European Championship, three Premier League titles, five FA Cups, one Champions League and three Serie A titles, he was unsure what to do next.
Universally liked and admired at the club, City didn’t want to lose his influence but Vieira was adamant that he didn’t want to go into coaching and quite fancied a role in the front office - possibly as a Director of Football.
He spoke with Garry Cook, then CEO at City, and Brian Marwood, then Director of Football, and they hatched a plan to give Vieira a 12-month intensive look at how a club was run behind the scenes before he decided on his next move.
“His presence in the dressing room and around the place had created a different ambition,” said Marwood, who remains at City as managing director of global football.
“He was an influencer, just through his personality and his experience. We didn’t want to let those qualities and that kind of experience go, but he was adamant that he wanted my job, not to be a coach!
“We wanted him to stay but to be 100 per cent sure of his next move so we took him on a journey; we wanted him to get a feel for the club and a sense of how it all comes together. We wanted him to see how everyone contributed to success, not just the players and coaches.
“For twelve months he worked alongside the scouting department, learned about the communications team and the media team, studied what went into a match day, spoke to the accounts people. He took the time to sit with people and learn about their roles, their families and what football and City meant to them. Everyone loved having him around; he was such a positive influence. He was a great one for asking questions. Management material.”
Vieira was also brilliant at making friends, organising twice weekly 11-a-side staff football matches at 7.30am in the morning that were always over-subscribed as kitmen, accountants, facilities employees and in-house media folk - amongst others - queued to play alongside a World Cup winner and then vied for his smiling accolade "worst player I’ve ever been on a pitch with".
Over his 12 months, Vieira and Marwod built a great friendship that is still strong today and the Frenchman decided that he wanted to go into coaching after all.
City built a staff around Vieira and put him in charge of the Elite Development Squad before he departed for New York City where the City Football Group had launched a team in Major League Soccer.
In his first season Vieira led the new franchise to their first play-off appearance falling in the semi-finals and he improved them from 17th to fourth to second in his time there before, in 2018, the lure of France proved too strong and he cut his ties with City to manage Ligue 1 Nice. They finished seventh in his first season before the relationship soured due to some poor results and he parted company with them in December 2020.
Vieira was appointed Palace manager in July 2021 and has started well, re-fashioning the playing style and producing some encouraging performances.
Only Chelsea and Liverpool have lost fewer games in the opening 10 Premier League fixtures and Palace have already beaten City and Spurs and came away with an 2-2 draw at Vieira’s old stomping ground, Arsenal, and would have earned victory at the Emirates were it not for Alexandre Lacazette's 95th-minute equaliser.
Fiercely loyal, Vieira still has coach Kristian Wilson with him from his time at City and New York and also brought Osian Roberts to Palace, the former Wales coach who was in charge of the courses when Vieira earned his coaching badges.
“Palace have a manager who wants desperately to succeed,” Marwood said. “He’s a man who listens and who will create an identity for the team. He’s already established a pattern of play. He is in a very well run club and they could progress together.
“There are obviously going to be inconsistencies along the way because he has a young squad and I’d guess top 10 or top 12 this season would be a success. If Patrick is given time I am sure he will put together a very competitive side.”
Who knows; Vieira’s City journey may even go full circle one day.