Patrick Vieira finished fourth in's Player of the Year poll.

To celebrate the fact, we have declared this to be "Vieira Week". Here's an interview with the Arsenal captain from the Arsenal Magazine last season. This is the first time it has been re-produced on the club's official website.

Patrick Vieira has always been precocious. At 14 he was already approaching the towering 6'4" presence that he is today, a physique he uses to great effect to dominate Premiership midfields and no doubt international engine-rooms this summer in Euro 2004.

At 18 he was captaining his club, Cannes, in the French First Division - the youngest player ever to achieve this feat - and was already a regular in the France Under-21 team. And, his full international bow came as a 20 year-old against Holland in 1997.

After his obvious promise came to the attention of AC Milan he was off to the San Siro but after a brief spell in Italy he was making his debut for Arsenal shortly after arriving at the Club in 1996 - and he's hardly been out of the side since, racking up over 350 appearances for the Club.

He now also has 66 caps for his country, all earned whilst at Arsenal, and is fast approaching Kenny Sansom's all-time Arsenal international caps record which stands at 77.

We're talking about a player who was always ahead of his years during the development of his game, and, though still just 27, it's no understatement to say that Patrick Vieira is already an Arsenal institution. A figure who will be remembered as one of the Club's all time greats, long after the Club have settled into their new stadium.

For the past two seasons, the Arsenal matchday programme has been canvassing the opinion of former players as to who would appear in their all-time Arsenal XI. Patrick leads the list. Ahead of Tony Adams, Liam Brady, Thierry Henry, George Armstrong, Ian Wright, Frank McLintock...and many more Highbury legends.

Very few good judges can imagine a 'greatest' Arsenal team without Patrick. Just like very few fellow Premiership players can picture a 'best Premiership XI' without the midfield collosus - he's appeared in the 'team of the season', voted for by his peers, for the past five seasons.

Patrick's influence on the Club is made all the more impressive by the fact that the nature of being an overseas player brings its incumbent additional stresses and strains. But on the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale, Patrick has proved a particularly telling example of France and England operating harmoniously. Patrick is now in his eighth year living and working  in London and when the Official Magazine caught up with him after the 5-0 victory over Leeds we decided to take him back to where it all began. 

Patrick, do you remember how you felt when you first came to England to join Arsenal?

Yes, to be honest I didn't know what to expect when I first arrived because I had never been to England before. I knew something about the language, because it is the first language we learn in France, but my first year was quite difficult because my English wasn't very good. I couldn't have a conversation with anybody.

Who was a help to you in the early days?

Well, two of us came from France, myself and Remi Garde, this was a couple of months before the Boss joined. It was helpful to be with Remi, but other players who were here really helped. I think in particular Chris Kiwomya and Glenn Helder, they were very friendly and made my early days easier. Luckily for me they were a good group of lads in the dressing room, so they made things easy for me.

It was all very strange to me. We used to change at Sopwell House Hotel and get a minibus to the UCL pitches where we trained before the training ground was built. This was something I hadn't really been expecting.

Gary and Colin Lewin were here then and good to me too and they knew it was hard for me because of my English not being good and Paul Johnson (Arsenal's Equipment and Travel Manager) helped a lot too. He was the first person I saw really because he picked me up from the airport when I first arrived.

How important was learning English and when did you first really feel at home?

The first thing I wanted to do was to learn the language, which helped me in terms of playing football with my team-mates but also outside of football. It gave me independence.

The first period when you learn the language, find a house, have a car and become independent is very important, then you can be friendlier with people. And then when you know you are doing a good job professionally, at your work, when all this comes together at that point you can say 'yes, I have found the right place to be'. I think this point would have come for me, I suppose, after the first two years in England.

How different was your integration into England compared to your time in Milan?

In Italy it was very different. There you had someone whose job it was to be with you all of the time, to show you everything. When I came to England, outside of the football, I was by myself. I came on my own, no family or friends, and I moved into a hotel for four or five months before I found my own place in Edgware. But for me this was good. Even though I was only young I had always liked to be independent and I loved it this way because I could do what I wanted.

So you liked the independence of your new-found London life, but did you like the city itself?

I liked England from day one because there is so much to do and London is very lively. Initially, I was a tourist really, going to Piccadilly Circus and things like that. I wanted to see London buses too, the red ones, they are quite famous in France you know!

...and now?

I have been here seven and a half years and over that time you develop good feelings about the country and aspects of the culture and you like where you are in your life. But I am so happy with the professional aspect of my life, playing football, that outside of that becomes easier.

So would you say there is perhaps a little bit of you that is like an Englishman now Patrick?

Not really, (laughing) I wouldn't say that!

But it is the centenary of the Entente Cordiale Patrick!

Yes I know, and I like some things that are the English way of course. Things like a big English breakfast on a Sunday and relaxing reading the Sunday papers. I think that is something I have grown into here.

Do you see yourself when you look at the young French players like Jeremie Aliadiere and Gael Clichy arriving in this country?

Not really. It is easier for the young guys now like Jeremie and Gael, just because there are a lot more French guys here. If they don't know how to ask for something in English they can ask one of the other lads and he will tell them what to do. They are lucky because we really look after them.

They have advantages, but I do say to them how important it is to learn the language and the culture here. It is very different here compared to France, culturally. And integrating into another country won't just help your football, it will always make you improve as a human being, learning new cultures.

So you think this integration is very important?

Yes, when you go into a country you have to adapt yourself to that country's ways. You have to be the one to make the first step, like learning the language. You need to be able to communicate and I like to speak to people. I am simple in many ways, I like to talk and to laugh with people just about normal things.

And I'm guessing your English girlfriend helps you adapt too?

Yes, but Cheryl isn't actually English, she is from Trinidad but has lived here for over 15 years so she had helped me a lot as her first language is English.

It's quite unusual to have one of the country's great sporting institutions being led by someone from outside the UK, how proud are you of being Arsenal Captain?

Of course, I am really proud to be Captain. This is my eighth season and every year I have wanted to take a step up, improve my game and have more of an input and being the Arsenal Captain is a very special feeling.

But it's funny, deep inside me I can feel how proud I am but I don't think I will fully realise this pride until the end of my career. I think when I have finished my career and look back on the fact I was the captain of a Club like Arsenal, with all its history, it will make me feel even more proud. I will truly realise the achievement. It's hard to think of things when you are still in the middle of your playing career, I think you will need the perspective of looking back.

And you are not the only player from France making their mark on the history of the game in England. Football has actually given English people many positive French role models hasn't it? 

Yes and it is important to represent your country well. There are now many French players in this country, not just at Arsenal but at a club like Chelsea too. I think we really enjoy our professional lives here and always do our best.

Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source
16 Jun 2004