| Vieira’s relationship with Wenger ‘is based on trust’
It was a tale of two captains at Arsenal Thursday with Patrick Vieira expressing his desire to sign a new contract, providing an offer was made within three months. Vieira’s knee injury means David Seaman has been named stand-in captain for Saturday’s FA Cup final with Southampton, which is expected to be the ageing goalkeeper’s swansong.
Although Vieira played down his significance to the club — “whatever happens to me, there will always be an Arsenal” — Highbury desperately needs their driving force to commit himself to the cause beyond a current contract expiring in 12 months.
Seeing off potential suitors like Real Madrid by tying the world’s best holding midfielder to Highbury would be a huge coup for Arsenal. At a time of uncertainty for the deposed champions, a new deal for Vieira would unleash a wave of confidence around Arsenal, sending out a message to those with wavering commitment in the dressing-room — such as Robert Pires — that the club can go places in England and Europe.
Vieira, a far more thoughtful individual who loves life in Hampstead Village, north London, has “not been happy” with comments about players’ wages emanating from the club’s chairman, Peter Hill-Wood. It is safe to assume Vieira and Hill-Wood do not go clubbing together, but the real power at Highbury lies with the majority shareholder Danny Fiszman and David Dein, the vice-chairman. Dein and the manager, Arsene Wenger, have been discussing Vieira’s future with the player. “My relationship with Wenger is based on trust,” said Vieira. “He’s always kept his word. I have talked to David Dein as well as the boss. That’s a basis for a good start [to negotiation].
“I am 27. I have only five more years in this position at the top level. I never said I want to quit the club but if the club want me to go because they receive a good offer, of course I will go. But I want to stay here for a long time. The club want me to stay, so now we have to find a solution. Something will have to be done before the start of the season. But I will be here next season. I want to win trophies with Arsenal. Our style of play and the players we have here means we are capable of winning trophies.
“I believe we can compete with the four clubs who played the semi-finals of the Champions League this week. What really matters is that the club want to fight against the best but if you want to beat the best, you have to have a bigger stadium.
“But I don’t know if Arsenal are ready for it as I don’t know what is going on at the top. I’m getting old though. I will be 31 in four years’ time when the new stadium is finished and the period that I can really play at the top level is not that long.”
While Vieira pondered over extending his stay, Seaman’s career probably has only 90 minutes remaining. Wenger usually hands the armband to Ray Parlour when Vieira is absent; the fact that Parlour definitely starts against Southampton indicates that Seaman has been handed the captaincy as a final honour in both senses. “David will be captain,” Wenger confirmed.
Sven-Goran Eriksson, the England coach, has called time on Seaman’s international career and the expectation is that Seaman may make an announcement before kick-off, possibly on television. He will remain on the Highbury pay-roll, coaching the keepers.
“Whatever happens, we will offer him a job,” said Wenger who is looking for a new keeper.
“I’ve had a chat with David to talk about his future and we will talk again after the final. Sven obviously doesn’t think David will go on to Euro 2004. I understand that. David’s still good enough to play for England. But the question marks will always be around someone when they reach 40. I know Dino Zoff played until he was 40 but he then stopped. Forty is a psychological barrier more than a physical one. If David wants to stop, I will respect that.”
If Lauren and Luzhny prove their fitness, Arsenal should line up as Seaman; Lauren, Keown, Luzhny, Cole; Ljungberg, Parlour, Gilberto, Pires; Bergkamp and Henry. Igors Stepanovs stands by should Luzhny falter.
The players are aware of the final’s significance. “If we lose the Cup,” said Ashley Cole, “there could be a lot of changes here.”