Patrick Vieira brought passion, heart and a first-class soccer brain to NYCFC. (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
At the present time we don’t know who will succeed Patrick Vieira as New York City FC coach.
But I do know one thing: whoever will run the NYCFC ship will have one tough act to follow.
What impressed me about Vieira is that he managed with his brain and his heart. His passion for the sport and his team was second to none.
He demanded excellence from his team and himself. In some postgame press conferences, he even questioned a move or a decision he made, which allowed me to have more respect for the man.
He also knew soccer inside and out.
When he took over the NYCFC coaching reigns from Jason Kreis for the 2016 MLS season, Vieira introduced a new, attacking concept to the team and league — a three-man forward line, with the lethal David Villa as the middle striker.
At one time, many soccer teams utilized a 433 formation before more conservative minds decided to deploy only two forwards and heaven forbid, a single striker up front.
The results were dramatic and dynamic as NYCFC began to produce more scoring opportunities and goals that season, although the team experienced some problems adapting its new style to the narrow pitch at Yankee Stadium.
It worked. NYCFC finished second in the Eastern Conference the past two seasons as it was eliminated in the conference semifinals in the playoffs. Vieira departs City in second place and as one of the league’s top and respected sides.
If you didn’t know him, you would have figured out that he was a World Cup champion (on that fabulous 1998 French team) or a legend with a club (as a defensive midfielder with Arsenal in the English Premier League for a decade). Vieira has never worn his reputation on his sleeve. It was what was at hand that was important to him.
Unfortunately, I did not get to know Vieira as much as I wanted, but I enjoyed talking to him on and off the record. Sometimes he would make a comment back to a writer with a quip, which usually went hand-in-hand with his disarming smile.
By pure happenstance prior to one game last year, writer Dylan Butler and I had the opportunity to chat with Vieira. We spoke about many things under the sun, including Manhattan and even some soccer. Needless to say, it was an enjoyable talk.
I will miss Vieira for so many reasons and so will NYCFC players and supporters.
He is a class act, as a person and as a coach.
So, good luck to Patrick Vieira in Nice, where he will take up his next coaching challenge.
And good luck to his successor, whoever that might be. He will need it because he will replace a legend.