Thursday, September 13, 2012
Vieira positive over City chances
The one-year anniversary is almost upon us. Or, to be precise, it is almost upon Roberto Mancini and Carlos Tevez, whose spectacular falling out in Munich seemed to signify that their relationship was "finished", to use the manager's word. Now, however, relationships have been rebuilt.
The Argentine's bond with colleagues and employers alike seems stronger than ever. "Carlos is a person everyone loves in the dressing room," Patrick Vieira, Tevez's former team-mate and now Manchester City's football development executive, said. "One of the best signings we made last year was to keep Carlos."
Whereas a parting of the ways appeared inevitable in the summer of 2011 and then in January 2012 - successive transfer windows in which City tried to find a taker for their former captain - now there is hope he could extend his stay at the Etihad Stadium. "Why not? We are talking about one of the best players of his generation," Vieira said.
Tevez has just under two years left on his current contract. After going six months without an appearance last season following his refusal to warm up in the 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich - a period in which he was first suspended by the club and then languished in self-imposed exile in South America - he is City's top scorer in this embryonic campaign, striking at a goal a game.
If the Tevez incident defined City's maiden Champions League campaign, when the loss in Germany was a reason that they failed to reach the last 16, their second season among the European elite could be equally demanding. Besides Bayern, City faced Napoli and Villarreal last year. This time around, they take on Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, beginning with a trip to the Bernabeu on Tuesday.
"I can't wait for the first game in Madrid," Vieira said. "It is going to be exciting." Along with the glamour, however, came a warning: "It is not going to be easy to get out of the group stage."
He hopes lessons have been learned. Mancini's squad contains Champions League winners in Tevez, Yaya Toure and recent recruit Maicon, but Vieira believes their collective inexperience came at a cost. "It was the first year in the Champions League as a team," he said. "When you make a mistake in the Champions League, you get punished straight away."
The message is to be careful but not to be afraid. "What is important is that the players realise they can beat every team," he argued. "They are good enough. They just have to perform on the day."
And yet, as he knows from personal experience, the best-laid plans are no guarantee of success on the European stage. A glittering career left him among the most decorated players of his day but one glaring omission from his CV is the Champions League. "We never adjusted to the Champions League when I was at Arsenal - they only got to the final after I left the club," the World Cup winner said.
Arsenal continue to figure prominently in his thoughts. They are one of "five or six" potential champions, according to their former captain, who is encouraged by their unbeaten start. "The way they played in the first few games is quite good. That can give them belief," he said. To prosper, however, he believes they have to eradicate errors. "Arsenal are capable of beating any team in the league but they are also capable of losing to any," Vieira said.
In his day, Arsenal were officially invincible, going unbeaten through an entire league season. That clinched his third title in North London; the first came when Vieira, along with Emmanuel Petit, shielded a defence that included Steve Bould. He is delighted to see his former colleague as the assistant to his mentor, Arsene Wenger. "I believe he is the right man for the job," he said. "Him being there is a fantastic opportunity for the all the players to learn from him."
Bould is charged with stopping goals, while an arrival at Emirates Stadium is expected to create them. "They have a really exciting talent in [Santi] Cazorla," Vieira said. He is enthused, too, by City's summer signings, even though they did not include Robin van Persie.
"Maicon has got great experience. He has won the Champions League and he has got over 50 caps for Brazil," he said. "Jack Rodwell has played already and he did really well and I believe Scott Sinclair can bring something to the club. [Javi] Garcia is one of the best young players in Europe. I believe they will help the club go to a different level. Roberto wanted them all."
While City hope they have left the Europa League behind them, Vieira retains an interest in the competition. "I believe the English have a big chance with Tottenham, Liverpool and Newcastle," the 2000 UEFA Cup finalist said. Lyon, Udinese and Napoli are his other tips, and City have first-hand experience of how intimidating a venue the San Paolo can be. But before the Europa League group stage kicks off, the Champions League begins. Real Madrid versus Manchester City: even a footballing great cannot wait.
Patrick Vieira is an ambassador for Western Union's new PASS initiative, turning every pass in this season's UEFA Europa League into funding for one day's education for young people around the world. He said: "Where I come from, opportunities for a quality education are rare. Football was my ticket to success, but for the vast majority of young people education is the key that allows them to become whatever they want to be. That's why I'm supporting this campaign."