Monday, November 29, 2021

Vieira and Gerrard renew the rivalry in new roles after the declaration begins

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Two decades ago, Patrick Vieria and Steven Gerrard were the top two up-and-down midfielders in the top division. They participated in some memorable competitions. They meet again tomorrow as managers when Crystal Palace receives Aston Villa. When the Premier League game comes close to some of their epic encounters, the audience at Selhurst Park will be in for a treat.

In the 2001 FA Cup Final, Vieira put on a great performance for Arsenal against Gerrards Liverpool. The palace director was in his pomp. The Frenchman was 24 and the engine of Arsene Wenger’s revolution. Gerrard was four years younger than him and the heartbeat of Gerard Houllier’s team. Vieira dominated the Millennium Stadium.

A cameo highlighted the difference in experience between the two men. They were playing a 50-50 challenge in the middle of the park and Vieira sculpted his body to pounce on the ball. Gerrard took the bait and lunged into the tackle, but as it left the ground, Vieira shifted his weight and began moving in the same direction as the ball. The Liverpool midfielder slipped aimlessly as the Arsenal man sauntered away after confusing his opponent.

Vieira should have been the man of the game on that sunny day in Cardiff 20 years ago. He dictated the pace of the game. Arsenal led 1-0 in the last seven minutes and the Arsenal Dynamo received praise. Then Michael Owen met twice, Liverpool won the cup and nobody thought of Vieira.

Gerrard was still raw, but the man who won world championships and European championships with France looked a class superior to the best English midfielder of his generation. Vieira was so good. In any conversation about the best midfielder of the Premier League era, Roy Keane and Frank Lampard (Paul Scholes was never the best player on any of his teams) as well as Gerrard can be cited. But Vieira is at the top of the pile. His stormy runs disrupted the defense and he was able to attack with precision on the edge of his own penalty area. Maybe he could have scored more goals but he was too ready to make for the amazing strikers at Arsenal. It’s close, but the French ousted Gerrard.

None of this matters now. Both men are at the beginning of their careers as managers in the Premier League. Palace’s decision to replace Retired Roy Hodgson with Vieira was surrounded by serious doubts.

Manchester City originally wanted the 45-year-old to be part of their organization. He spent the final year of his playing career at Etihad a decade ago and the club thought he could evolve into a Bayern Munich-style boardroom appearance. The German club prides itself on turning former players into executives.

It didn’t quite work out. Vieira next took on the role of head coach at New York City FC, another branch of the Abu Dhabi empire. The reviews were mixed and his next step was back to France and Nice.

The Ligue 1 club sacked Vieira almost a year ago. When he reappeared in south London there were some surprises, but the Palace manager got off to an encouraging start. His highlights came away against his former sides – a 2-0 win over City at Etihad and a 2-2 draw against Arsenal in the Emirates when a last-second equalizer denied Vieira all three points.

Palace was lively, exciting and deserves to be higher than 10th on the table. Vieira almost gets the best out of Christian Benteke and relieves Wilfried Zaha by creating various points of attack for the team. Conor Gallagher, on loan from Chelsea, is thriving in Selhurst and the club is really busy.

Gerrard has always been surrounded by excitement. He creates a stir. His debut win at Villa, a 2-0 win over Brighton, was the perfect start to his new job. The villa manager hasn’t experienced the same management growing pains as Vieira. He was an instant hit with the Rangers, but the leap from the Scottish top division to the Premier League is a big one. Villa are only three points behind Palace and the margins are so tight that any club could fight for a European place or a relegation battle by the New Year. It will be fascinating to see the influence of two of the most inspiring players in Premier League history in their adult roles as managers.

Size on the court is not a guarantee of success on the bench. Vieira and Gerrard have impeccable references. They were once the best at what they did. Both of them still have a long way to go to replicate their successes as managers.

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