The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Vieira goodbye a Wenger gamble

The long goodbye has been concluded at last. Patrick Vieira's departure from Highbury was completed on Thursday after Arsenal agreed to sell the France midfield player to Juventus for '13.7 million.

Even as Vieira scanned the details of his five-year contract with the Serie A champions, the effects were rippling through the Barclays Premiership, with Newcastle United insisting that they will not allow Jermaine Jenas to become Vieira's replacement.

Recent summers have not been complete without tortuous speculation regarding Vieira's future ' usually involving Real Madrid, whom he came close to joining a year ago ' but Arsenal have now finally dispensed with their captain and talisman. It is a decision that emanates squarely from the office of Arsene Wenger, who made Vieira his first signing for the club in 1996, three months before he officially took charge.

There is a widespread theory that Vieira's form has dipped over the past few seasons, yet discarding the player who, alongside Thierry Henry, embodied the French revolution that has reinvigorated Arsenal's fortunes over the past decade, still represents a gamble. Vieira, who had two years of his '90,000-a-week deal to serve, is only 29 and should be nearing his peak.

'I share the sadness with our supporters that Patrick has left us,' Wenger said, 'but on the other hand I would say to them, 'trust us and support us. We'll be strong next season and we need you behind us like you have always been. We will not disappoint you'.'

Sources have suggested that while there has been no fallout with Vieira, Wenger has viewed the ceaseless intrigue surrounding his captain's future as increasingly disruptive.

For Vieira, who encountered racism on and off the pitch in Italy before his '3.5 million transfer to Arsenal from AC Milan, a new chapter beckons. 'When you spend nine years at a club like I did, it is a difficult decision to leave,' Vieira said. 'But in the end, you have to make a choice for your future.' He won three league titles at Highbury.

Wenger's only acquisition this close season has been Alexander Hleb, from VfB Stuttgart, and even without the Vieira fee ' half of which will be paid up front, with the rest spread over two years ' the manager had in excess of '25 million at his disposal. Mahamadou Diarra, of Lyons, is another midfield player to have come under consideration, while a forward, goalkeeper and defender are also being sought.

Yet while Francesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini are blessed with talent and potential, finding a successor to Vieira will not be easy or cheap and Newcastle officials were quick to state that Jenas will not be permitted to leave St James' Park.

Wenger is a firm admirer of the 22-year-old, who is a regular presence in the England squad, and is expected to confirm his interest with a '10 million offer. 'JJ is not for sale,' Freddy Shepherd, the Newcastle chairman, said.

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