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MACCA: Vieira has earned his place in the Real world; PAUL McCARTHY...THE MAN THE PLAYERS READ.


A QUESTION. Not one that will be well received in the Highbury boardroom or the streets of Islington ...

Can anybody find a reason why Patrick Vieira shouldn't pack his bags for Real Madrid the second the World Cup finishes?

Oh yes, of course, loyalty to the Arsenal cause. Now come down off your fluffy little cloud, re-join the real world and don't feel upset by the sniggers from the rest of us at your hopeless sentimentality.

For what player in his right mind could seriously consider turning his back on the Bernabeu after what we witnessed in Glasgow on Wednesday night.

A few weeks ago I eulogised on the subject of Real and their place at the very pinnacle of the world game in both the hearts and minds of all true football fans. A few deluded souls from Manchester and Merseyside took umbrage, claiming England's finest had the drop on those damn dagos. After all, hadn't Madrid simply bought the European Cup?

And money well spent, I would think, judging by the fact the world's most expensive player scored possibly one of the finest goals to ever win a match of that calibre.

At pounds 48million, Zinedine Zidane cost pounds 20m more than Juan Sebastian Veron - and never was there more compelling justification for that gulf than at Hampden Park.

Yet more than just Zidane's moment of heavenly inspiration or Real's ninth European Cup, the lure of the club seeped from every inch of their almost mystical participation in a fabulous game of football.

Witness Raul's beautiful celebration of his team's triumph, treating the Spanish flag like a matador's cape to the delight of the assembled Madrid hordes in Glasgow while his team-mates danced jigs of unconfined joy around Hampden.

I ask again, how can Vieira turn his back on that should the Spanish suitors come beckoning?

The man would be a fool. More than that, rejecting Real would be a betrayal of all his instincts as one of the game's finest players.

With absolutely no disrespect meant to Arsene Wenger, but how can he possibly put up a convincing argument to Vieira when the chance to play for the world's greatest team is on the table?

"Listen, Patrick, I know Real will treble your wages. I know you've always dreamed of teaming up with Zizou for country AND club. I know it's every players' dream to pull on that pure white shirt in front of an adoring multitude.

"But honestly, what good will it do you? Stick around London - you never know, we might even get through to the second phase of the Champions League next season. Here's an extra 10 grand a week, and let's hear nothing more of this silly transfer business, shall we?" Sorry, it's a nonsense.

I'm all for player loyalty but when clubs are cutting players off at the knees throughout the English game (you know who you are, Bradford City) how can you blame somebody for wanting to better themselves. Zidane had nothing to prove. He was playing for one of the top five clubs in the world, he'd won the World Cup and European Championships yet when Real gave out their siren call, he was lured away like any other self-respecting superstar - because this was the chance to cement his place in history.

Vieira must realise, too, that this is the opportunity to place himself in the highest bracket. Not to be seen as the big fish in the Premiership puddle, but as a true operator, a man who can bestride the game. In short, somebody worthy of pulling on that white shirt.

He must imagine himself at the heart of such a fantastic side, receiving the ball and looking up to see Zidane and Luis Figo breaking into space, Raul pulling off his marker, even Steve McManaman willing to break sweat for the cause.

Vieira doesn't owe Arsenal so much. Yes, there should always be a debt of gratitude to Wenger for recognising the potential that was wasting away in the San Siro shadows, but the standard of performance since his arrival at Highbury balances the books.

No, the only person to whom Vieira owes a thing is himself. David Dein can weep, wail and gnash his pristine white teeth and call down a curse on agent Marc Roger as much as he likes, but if Real summon him, Vieira MUST leave.

Or regret the decision for the rest of his life.
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:May 19, 2002
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