Tottenham Hotspur are making a concerted attempt to sign Patrick Vieira, the former Arsenal midfielder. Or to give him his full title, the much despised, reviled, whinging, play-acting, dirty, referee-intimidating, leader-of-the-scum Arsenal midfielder.
Sound contacts confirm this is very much more than the latest tabloid rumour. Regular readers will recall that ten days ago, when Michael Owen was available, I suggested Harry’s appreciation of the virtues of experience would undoubtedly mean the arrival of at least one veteran, battle-hardened in the ways of the Premier League. I can’t say Vieira’s name was exactly top of my list, however.
I’m probably older than most people reading this blog. Therefore, I’ve been hating the Arsenal for longer than you have. At an age when I should know better, the old rivalry continues unabated. I wish a pox and a plague upon their house, famine and drought throughout the land, although it’s only fair to stop short of smiting their firstborn.
So the pain is deep and the blood runs cold, but through gritted teeth I spit out the truth: Vieira was a great footballer. There, I’ve said it. May the earth swallow me whole. Wish I didn’t have to, but it’s true. He provided everything that our midfield has lacked for so many years: drive, accurate passing, positional sense, inspiration, tackling. He, more than Roy Keane even, is the one player that I have constantly referenced when describing our deficiencies and how they could be put right.
It’s easy to see why Redknapp wants him so badly. Sitting in front of the back four, curbing the inclination to get forward, he would enable the younger legs around him to do most of the work whilst he directed operations and the lack of stamina becomes less of a drawback. He’d seldom play for 90 minutes, either playing the first 75 to secure a win or the final 20 to hold onto a lead, the latter solving a big problem for us away from home. Also, he would be a beneficial influence on our youngish midfielders.
The economics are good too. As I remarked in the Owen article, we can afford his salary and the lack of a transfer fee protects our capital and our interest payments. Even better if Levy secures a ‘pay as you play’ deal, as has been rumoured.
But football is not about common sense. It’s driven by a tribal passion from the stands, about them and us, about belonging and solidarity. And Vieira does not belong here. He apparently took great delight in consistently trampling our team into the ground. Players don’t really care who they play for, as long as the money is right. Fair enough; that’s what the word ‘professional’ means. Just don’t expect us to turn right round and take him to our hearts. For the fans, football is not about the money.
Redknapp as ever is a canny operator. He knows there is a risk that this signing, if it happens, could alienate those of us who feel insulted at the very thought of not just any Arsenal player but their talismanic leader wearing our colours. However, he’s right to gamble that this is easily outweighed by our desperate desire for success. If he scores the winner at the Emirates, am I going to sit on my hands, comforted that my principles remain intact?
If anyone is vulnerable, it’s the player, not Redknapp or Levy. Should Vieira’s standards slip, the crowd will be straight on his back and at this stage in his career, I question whether that will motivate him to greater heights. More like drift away into well-paid retirement.
I will cheer any player in a Spurs shirt. Some I will cheer louder and longer than others.