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'If Rice is worth £150m, Vieira would be £250m!' - Arsenal legend 'had it all', claims Pennant

11:00 GMT+4 04/04/2022
Patrick Vieira Arsenal
The ex-Gunners winger talks to GOAL about his former team-mate ahead of Arsenal’s crucial Premier League clash at Crystal Palace

It does not take Jermaine Pennant long to name the three words he would use to describe what Patrick Vieira was like as a player.

"An absolute machine," he says, as he talks to GOAL about his former team-mate ahead of Arsenal’s crucial trip to take on Vieira’s Crystal Palace side on Monday.

Pennant is one of a select few footballers who are fortunate enough to be able to say they played alongside the Frenchman, who was recently inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame.

The former Gunners winger, who spent six years in north London, was a team-mate of the Palace manager between 1999 and 2005.

During that time, he built up an immense respect for the midfielder, both on and off the pitch, and sees Vieira as one of the all time greats to play on these shores.

“He’s right up there,” says Pennant. “Patrick was a box-to-box player, he was everywhere on the pitch. He had bits of all the top midfielders nowadays. 

“He would break up play like a Fabinho, he would surge forward like a Steven Gerrard, although obviously without getting as many goals.

“He wasn’t built big, he was thin, tall, lanky. But he was strong, he was powerful, he was quick, he could tackle, he could pass with the inside or outside of the foot.

“Not only that, he was a great leader. You name it, he had it all.”

Pennant adds: “If you say Declan Rice is worth £100-150 million, then Patrick is a minimum £250m, I’m sorry. 

“Declan is a great player, but what I saw on the pitch, what Patrick did, I don’t see any other midfielders like him, apart from maybe Stevie G.

“He would flick the ball up over people’s heads just so casually. You knew it was coming, but you couldn’t stop it. He had that trick when you’d try and slow him down and he’d just scoop it over your head and would be away.

“He was so good and he wasn’t scared of a challenge. Not many players can say they stood up to Roy Keane.

“He would be worth £250m nowadays, easy!”

Pennant signed for Arsenal as a 15-year-old in 1999, when Arsene Wenger paid £2m to bring him to Highbury from Luton Town.

Vieira had already established himself as one of the best midfielders in the country by that point having played a key role in Arsenal’s league and cup double in 1998, as well as winning the World Cup with France.

Another double followed in the 2001-02 season, and he would then be given the captain’s armband by Wenger following Tony Adams’ decision to retire.

Vieira went on to captain Arsenal to their historic unbeaten Premier League triumph in 2004, and Pennant says his leadership was one of the things that made him stand out from the rest.

“He was great,” explains the 39-year-old. “With me he was excellent, and not only on the pitch.

“We had a few trips to Wagamamas back in the day. Me, Ashley [Cole], Thierry [Henry] and Patrick. We used to go over to the West End, go to Wagamamas after training and get a bit of lunch.

“He was a great guy. Always friendly, always nice. I never felt like I couldn’t approach him because ‘oh my god it’s Patrick Vieira’. 

“He never belittled me or anything.”

Pennant adds: “Off the pitch he was great, but on it he was just something else. Everyone respected him. 

“When things weren’t going great, if people weren’t pulling their weight, he would let them know. It didn’t matter who you were, you could be Dennis Bergkamp or Thierry Henry and that’s the sign of a great captain.

“Some people would look at players like Dennis and Thierry and think ‘should I really say this?' But not Patrick, he didn’t hold back.

“That’s why the whole dressing room and all the staff respected him.”

Given the way he was as a player, Pennant is not overly surprised to see Vieira making a successful start to his stint in charge of Crystal Palace.

There were plenty who questioned the wisdom of Palace appointing someone last summer who had never managed in the Premier League before as the successor to Roy Hodgson.

But ahead of Monday’s clash with Arsenal, the Eagles are sitting safely in 12th and also have an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea to look forward to later this month.

“Patrick is so respected that his message would have got across to his players quickly,” says Pennant. “So in a sense, I’m not surprised he’s done well.

“And I knew from the type of player he was, that he would want his team to play good football.

“When a new manager comes in who has never managed in the league, it’s always a tricky little period, but he’s done amazing.

“When they played against Liverpool recently they were very unlucky not to come away with anything and they got a result against Manchester City. That in itself is an achievement.

“So he’s doing fantastic. Every time I see Palace play, I see a little bit of Patrick in there.”

So does Pennant see Vieira managing Arsenal one day?

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “If he continues on this path, then I don’t see why not.

“I’m sure the Arsenal fans would love to have him as a manager one day. When Palace played against Arsenal earlier in the season, you saw the reception he got.”

Pennant was speaking to GOAL to raise awareness of the IPLSOCCER tournament, which will be held on May 8 at Derby’s Pride Park stadium with the aim of encouraging more British Asians to take up football.

The event will feature several former Premier League stars, including Pennant, Michael Owen, Emile Heskey and Gabby Agbonlahor, and professional scouts from the country’s top clubs will be in attendance to spot any talented players.

“There are hardly any Asians in football really and I’m sure the talent is there,” said Pennant. “So if I can help encourage or shed some spotlight on the tournament and showcase someone’s ability, then I’m all for it.”

You can find out more about the IPLSOCCER tournament and register online here.