Patrick Vieira is determined to focus on the here and now – but it appears an almost Sisyphean task given that he is constantly asked where his future lies. Barely a week goes by when the New York City FC head coach is not linked with a vacancy either in Europe or the United States.
Even before Bruce Arena resigned after failing to lead USA to next summer’s World Cup finals, Vieira was touted as a possible replacement, leading the Frenchman to issue to a quick and firm denial regarding his interest in the position. This came soon after Vieira revealed he had tentative talks with Ligue 1 side St Etienne in the summer. The rumours and speculation will only increase if Vieira leads NYC FC to the MLS Cup this year, in just his second season as a professional head coach.
On Tuesday evening Vieira’s men take on the Columbus Crew in the first match of the two-legged MLS Eastern Conference semi-finals. Vieira, though, deals with the endless barrage of questions about his future with grace. “I am happy here,” he says, almost like a mantra.
“It is flattering … to be linked with different clubs around Europe but it is just journalist talk,” Vieira told the Guardian. “I am doing what I love and am where I want to be. It was just speculation [regarding the USA job] and the best way to kill speculation is to be true and to be honest straight away and people will not talk about it anymore.”
When Vieira arrived in New York after a spell as Manchester City’s reserve team and Elite Development squad manager, it was widely assumed that the 41-year-old had been given a golden opportunity by City Football Group to further his coaching career and, if he proved himself in the US, would return to the Etihad to replace Pep Guardiola. Managing City is “the fairytale story,” Vieira even said last year.
Vieira, though, seems happily settled in New York with his wife and daughter and intends to see out his contract at NYC FC, which has one more year left to run. He could even stay in MLS beyond 2018. “Why not?” he says with a smile. “I don’t have any reason why not.”
For now the former Arsenal, Internazionale and France midfielder is looking to do what the New York Yankees could not this year – bring a major trophy to Yankee Stadium. Due to the Yankees’ extended play-off run, NYC FC were forced out of Yankee Stadium in their final game of the regular MLS season (to, of all places, Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets). It was the second occasion in a short space of time this happened to NYC FC due to the demands of the Yankees. With the Bronx Bombers having fallen just short in their attempts to reach the World Series, the schedule is clear for NYC FC’s MLS play-off run but further stadium clashes likely await next season (and, indeed, every year until they find their own facility).
Vieira is philosophical about the issue. “It is challenging – there is no doubt about it. But we knew what to expect. It is not a surprise for us,” he adds. “What is important to us is to find the best facilities that we can have to find the feeling that we are playing at home. It can happen again next year but it is something that we knew we would face as Yankees are a massive franchise and are expected to do well. We will just have to deal with it.”
The manner in which Vieira has dealt with this huge inconvenience demonstrates the extent to which he has not only acclimatized to the particulars of MLS but thrived too. After the franchise’s dismal inaugural season under Jason Kreis, Vieira has led NYC FC to the play-offs twice in two attempts. “I am a better coach, I believe, than when I arrived,” says Vieira, speaking at a NYC FC event launching the first 10 new mini-soccer pitches across the city.
How exactly has he improved? “There are lots of different scenarios you are facing – you are reacting, anticipating, making different decisions and then you reflect on those – and you see if you made the right ones and that can be on or off the field.”
Such is the high regard in which Vieira is held in the States, his views on how to revive US soccer following the humiliating failure to reach Russia 2018 are taken seriously. Some pundits have called for a complete overhaul of the system but Vieira urges caution in that regard.
“[Failing to reach Russia 2018] is not a step back it is a short drama,” Vieira says. “When you look at what has happened in the past few years and how the game has developed in this country – they are producing players who are doing well in Europe… it is just a question of time. It will take time to produce players who can challenge for the World Cup.
“When you have a game and you just need a point [as USA did against Trinidad and Tobago but lost 2-1] … it can happen in our sport. I feel for the players – they will not be happy with the way they performed.”
NYC FC go into the play-offs after ending the regular MLS season with just one win in seven matches; Toronto FC, meanwhile, are heavy favourites for MLS Cup glory. Should Vieira overcome the odds and secure a first major trophy for NYC FC, you can bet the rumour mill will go into overdrive.