This summer marks a decade since Patrick Vieira’s retirement as a player. The final 18 months of that career were spent at Manchester City just as the club were taking their final steps towards becoming true Premier League heavyweights. Vieira had a role to play.
“By that time, he was not somebody who could get around the pitch,” Simon Wilson tells Sky Sports.
“He was not somebody who could have a massive influence on the way that we played. But he was a locker room influence at that time. It was his leadership and presence.”
Wilson was City’s strategy and performance manager at the time and offers rare insight into the thinking that persuaded the club not only to bring Vieira to Manchester but also to keep him there beyond his playing career. His contract was extended on lucrative terms
“The club did not know what he would be after playing but they wanted him to be something. They wanted his skills and capabilities around the club. We knew it would help in some way. It was my job to help transition him from a playing career into something else.”
Wilson still remembers the initial conversation in which the pair discussed the next move. The verdict from Vieira was surprisingly emphatic. “The first thing he said was, ‘I know I don’t want to be a coach. No way in the world do I want to be a coach. I just could not do it.’
“He started off by saying that he really liked the community work, the charitable causes, and he could see himself doing that. Slowly, he became more attracted to the academy because he missed football. He liked the development side but not the first-team stuff.”
It was two years before he took charge of the elite development squad at City and another couple before he took his first senior job in New York. Ten years on from that initial reluctance to embark upon his coaching journey, Vieira is a Premier League manager.
Crystal Palace’s decision to appoint the 45-year-old Frenchman as the replacement for the hugely experienced Roy Hodgson is seen by some as a gamble but Wilson is optimistic.
He witnessed Vieira growing into the role in Manchester and – having been appointed as director of football services for City Football Group – was partly responsible for entrusting him with the New York City job in Major League Soccer. Wilson was impressed.
“Everyone has an idea of what good looks like. It was not just the results and performances. I have seen a lot of coaches work and the way that he works with the team is fantastic.
“He is that classic example of someone who can walk into a room, say nothing, but he just has that presence about him and that has carried through into his coaching. Despite that, Patrick is very low ego. He is quite understated, quite self-conscious, actually.