Creative Soccer Culture

Patrick Vieira Talks The Champions League & Experiencing The Final As A Fan

Patrick Vieira lined up for both Manchester City and Inter Milan during his playing days, so he was the perfect person to speak to ahead of the recent Champions League final, and he gave us his take on Europe’s premier competition, and what that iconic anthem means to him.

Few players in the history of football could dominate a midfield like Patrick Vieira. Now though, with his playing days behind him, he’s able to enjoy an occasion like the Champions League Final free from stress, allowing him to lap up the atmosphere, the noise, and the moment. We were able to catch up with the former France international in Istanbul ahead of Man City’s historic win over Inter Milan to find out all about his relationship with the Champions League, and how that’s changed from his time on the pitch to now being off it.

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When you come to places like Istanbul, places with rich history, culture, the food, the craziness of the buildings and how the architecture is, how do you feel when football brings you to places like this?

It opens the eyes and opens the brain. Learning about the culture of the country you go to, that's the beauty of the game. You go to places that you've never been before. And because football is taking you there, then we get the opportunity to do that. You try to understand the culture of places through the people, and you learn things that TV can't teach you.

The best thing is to go to the country – that’s when you find out how lovely a country is. That's why I was really looking forward to this trip, to come here, to have this experience.

Living out of the big game like this, to really understand and experience the atmosphere going around, that's why to be part of this project, this experience, to really understand what's going on around, is so special for me. And the noise? The atmosphere on the big final. It's a really great experience. You don't always know what's going on around when you're stuck in a building.

As a player, as a fan, as a manager, you add a city like this to the whole experience of a Champions League final. How do you remain calm in those scenarios?

It's really easy. It's about enjoying life, enjoying the experience and the moment. Doing things without stress. When you spend time playing on the field, playing games, the stress that goes with it can sometimes dominate your experience. When that's over, you see life in a different way and you do things differently. But it's about enjoying those two or three days.

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When you say about changing your approach, do you think you've changed between now and being a player then?

Yes, of course. This moment as a player is about preparing yourself in the best way to perform. So, you build the moment but with stress. You want to give yourself the best chance to get to play the best football you can at that specific moment. So that moment becomes about how you prepare yourself for that occasion to allow you to be the best at that moment, taking everything into consideration.

A final can add to the stress though as well, because when you're playing a final, you don't know when the next one will be. You understand what I mean? So, you do everything, but it all comes with stress and anxiety as well. Nowadays I can put that all to one side. You come in here and just enjoy the experience with Expedia. You can enjoy this moment. You can breathe.

You always looked levelheaded and calm. Out on the pitch…

It looked like it, but I was boiling just under the surface, because you want to perform, you want to win. Especially when you play in a final because, like I said, you don't know when you'll play the next one. You don't want to be on the losing side in the final.

When you think about Champions League, you talked about the noise and the anthem…

The Champions League is about the anthem. When you hear the anthem, you know, automatically, that this is the Champions League. They've created that moment where football fans… You can go worldwide, play anywhere and everyone knows straight away that it's the Champions League.

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Was there a time, maybe it's the last time or the first time you heard it, where it gave you goosebumps?

You know when you grew up as a kid? You want to play all the top competitions and your first step is about, Yeah, I want to be a professional footballer. And then when you are a professional footballer, it becomes about I want to play European competition, I want to be an international player, I want to win the European Championship, I want to win the World Cup, I want to win the Champions League. You always want more, you understand? For me it's about, again, are you prepared for the sacrifices that come with it? To build that potential you have in you to be there. I was lucky to go through and get these kinds of experiences. Outside of the Champions League, that is.

Is there a moment for you that stands out? Is maybe the best Champions League moment for you?

You know, when I was at Arsenal we had some really tough games in the Champions League, but we managed to win some games. But you always remember your first; the first game you played in the Champions League. Because again, when you're kids and you're watching the Champions League on the TV, I think when you're there on the line and they play the Champions League music… that's it. There's a happiness because you've achieved one of your targets. At the same time, for me, the biggest disappointments was not winning the Champions League.

Focusing on the negatives then, do you think about that often?

Of course, of course. If I don't think about it, people remind me about it! [Laughs] So, I was lucky to play for some of the biggest clubs in Europe and we went to the quarterfinal with Arsenal. Then When I left Arsenal they got to the semi-final. Then when I left Inter, they won it. So, it just looked like the Champions League wasn't for me.

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Going back to the positives. The Champions League brings out the big players, the big names. Can you remember some players that maybe stand out as different quality?

I remember players I loved watching who inspired me. Especially the midfielders. I remember Rijkaard when he lifted the Champions League with AC Milan. I remember Redondo when he lifted the Champions League at Real Madrid. Those moments when you talk about the Champions League, you talk about the music. You talk about top players who perform at this level. I remember Zidane, the goal he scored against Bayer Leverkusen in the final, the volley. I remember Samuel Eto’o, the moment between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. Big moments, and the Champions League is about that.

Finally, moving into management as you have, is this now the new goal, as a manager to play in the Champions League?

When I decided to get into managing I wanted to get to the top, and going to the top is about managing in the Champions League, in European competition. Of course, that would be a dream. And that is something that I would love to do. Now it’s important for me to build myself to have an opportunity to do that.

Do you think it will reinstate that boiling feeling within you?

I already have it. You get into coaching and you have it. This is who I am. This is how I am. I think when you play pr when you go into coaching, you need to have that kind of quality inside you, because if you don't have it you'll never get there.

Is it the same feeling or is it a different one?

It's a different one. It's easier to play than to manage your coat. But you need to have this kind of fire in your stomach if you want to get there, to the top.

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Daniel Jones

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