Given the trajectory of Patrick Vieira’s managerial career, there may have been a point where a move to Crystal Palace would have been seen as a step backwards.
The former Arsenal skipper built strongly on his early learning at Manchester City’s academy, where he led the club’s Elite Development Squad, before joining another branch of the City Group to begin his journey in the professional game.
Improvements year on year at New York City FC turned heads back in Europe, and Nice provided an opportunity to return to France, a move which initially appeared an astute one.
Patrick Vieira looks set to be appointed the next manager of Crystal Palace this week
However, that progress stalled, and for the first time Vieira found himself going backwards. After losing his job in December last year, he has been offered the chance to take the reins at Selhurst Park.
Having been given the time to digest what went wrong in the south of France, he is now ready to return to the dugout, and the Premier League. As Palace’s history attests to, he will need to hit the ground running.
A winner on the pitch as a player, captaining Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ to the title in 2004 among his many accolades, Vieira had a plethora of top managers to learn from during his career, having worked under Fabio Capello, Roberto Mancini and Jose Mourinho to name but a few.
There are few better teachers though than Arsene Wenger, his fellow Frenchman whom with he won three Premier League titles at Highbury.
The pair are still close now – Wenger told him ‘You’re never a real coach until you get fired’ following his dismissal from Nice – but despite his deep links to the north London club, it was City that gave him his apprenticeship in coaching.
The World Cup winner made an accomplished start to life in the dugout with New York City FC
After impressing with the club’s EDS, he was given the opportunity to go across the Atlantic and lead the US branch of the City Group – New York City FC.
It was a promising start to life in the managerial hotseat, as City became a play-off regular under the Former France international.
He led them to the MLS play-off semi-finals in three successive seasons, getting the most out of some of Europe’s best ageing stars in the process.
Vieira had Andrea Pirlo, David Villa and Frank Lampard to call upon at points during his three seasons in charge, finishing second in the overall MLS league standings in 2017.
He also allowed young talent to prosper too. Jack Harrison – who spent last season as a standout performer for Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds in the Premier League – was the first draft pick made by New York in 2016.
The ex-Arsenal captain had some big names in his squad such as Andrea Pirlo and David Villa
Despite the inability to banish their semi-final hoodoo, others were watching closely at his progress.
His reputation at City was such that Newcastle United sat down to discuss the possibility of him taking over from John Carver in 2015, before they eventually opted for long-term target Steve McClaren.
Instead, his first opportunity back in Europe would come in France, where – to begin with – he mirrored the early progress enjoyed back in New York.
Taking over from Lucien Favre in June 2018, he went on to improve the club’s league position, taking them to seventh in his first full season in charge.
Under his guidance, New York City FC improved year on year every season in MLS
It was here he found a different challenge. In place of the consummate older professionals he found in his New York changing room, was the irascible figure of Mario Balotelli.
Having already lost focus at a failed move to Marseille, Patrick Vieira gave the forward no preferential treatment after he returned late to pre-season.
‘When it comes to Mario, I want to answer back, or just slam him up against the wall or leave him hanging by his collar on the coat rack, but I can’t, as I’m no longer a player,’ he told L’Equipe in December 2018 – alluding to his days as Arsenal’s midfield enforcer.
With Balotelli gone, a strong Nice side finished fifth at the end of the 2019-20 season, sealing a return to European football and the Europa League.
Vieira got off to a strong start at Nice, improving initially on predecessor Lucien Favre
However, the additional matches and lack of additions in the squad was a recipe for disaster. The club failed to replace Malang Sarr after losing him on a free transfer to Chelsea, and when captain Dante was injured early in the season, the club’s form cracked.
Five defeats in a row sealed Vieira’s fate, including a demoralising 6-2 defeat at the hands of Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League.
His stock was plummeting at such a rate that fans began to protest. Ahead of one Europa League game, the team bus was blocked by fans leaving the training ground to get to the game.
Huge defeats – such as the 6-2 loss to Bayer Leverkusen – set the tone for his second season
While supporters had made up their mind, the words on his departure from the club on December 4 suggested that there was still a great deal of respect for the departing boss within the club itself.
‘Patrick Vieira put all his heart and professionalism into his service for OGC Nice over the last two and a half years of their collaboration,’ read a statement from the club on behalf of British owner Jim Ratcliffe.
After taking a step back and dusting himself down. Vieira is ready to go again.
‘I’m at the start of my coaching career. And my goal is to go very high,’ he told L’Equipe in an interview last April.
Vieira will need to hit the ground running at Crystal Palace on his return to the Premier League
‘I will give myself the means to succeed. And the way people look at this failure is part of my construction as a coach. There have been failures in my playing career, I have always been able to bounce back.’
And so he bounces back into the Premier League, with a chance to once again upstage Favre – who walked away from the role having seemingly agreed terms earlier this summer.
A chance, too, to get the Eagles soaring once more, and his managerial career back on the right trajectory.