On Monday, New York City Football Club announced Patrick Vieira as the club's new manager, effective January 1st, 2016. The move is hardly a surprise, but it will no doubt generate a great deal of excitement among MLS (and American Arsenal) fans.
Vieira's arrival in New York isn't so much a new signing as it is an internal promotion. Both Manchester City and NYCFC are owned by the same organization—City Football Group—and Vieira spent the last several years working for Manchester City as the Head Coach of the team's Elite Development Squad, City's reserve team. He's also spent the past two years as CIty's Football Development Executive.
On the surface, it looks like a good move. NYCFC has several once-elite, veteran players—David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo—and there were some suggestions that Vieira's predecessor Jason Kreis might have had a difficult time establishing his authority in the locker room. If true, this won't be something Vieira will have to deal with. Vieira was a legendary player in his own right, on par with if not surpassing the career accomplishments of NYCFC's big 3. He won the World Cup, the European Championship, and seven league titles across Europe, in addition to captaining Arsenal's team of invincibles, which went undefeated in the 2003-2004 Premier League season.
Look beyond Vieira's playing resume, however, and there are some unanswered questions about how he will handle his new role. This will be his first stint as a first-team manager, and if there's one law in soccer it's that a stellar playing career doesn't necessarily make a good manager. Vieira could turn out to be the next Pep Guardiola, but he could just as easily be the next Roy Keane.
Vieira's presumed unfamiliarity with American soccer could also define his tenure at NYCFC. Foreign managers—or at least those who don't have an in-depth understanding of MLS's quirks—have historically had a difficult time in the league. One of the issues Kreis failed to solve during his time at NYCFC was how to fit Pirlo and Lampard into the center of a midfield and not have them overrun by the team's more athletic but less prestigious opponents. Having Pirlo and Lampard's respect is one thing, figuring out how to put together a balanced team in the allotted salary cap space is a different challenge altogether.
"I am delighted to take up the role of Head Coach of New York City FC," Vieira was quoted in the today's press release. "To work with this squad, with Claudio Reyna and Rob Vartughian and the fantastic support team that is in place, is an exciting prospect for any coach.
"This established football set up, together with a passionate and loyal fan base, located in a special city which I know well, makes for an unparalleled opportunity that I am delighted to seize with both hands. I cannot wait to get started."
One thing's for sure, he'll have to learn to call football soccer. But at least he didn't say "the MLS."