Selling Vieira abroad may be Arsenal's best option

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The Independent Online

After burning his bridges with Arsenal via an incendiary outburst against the club, the board and even colleagues in the Highbury and French national teams, Patrick Vieira resumed his holiday in Florida yesterday and waited for a transfer to Manchester United, Juventus or Real Madrid to materialise once the smoke clears.

If Vieira hoped to provoke a swift settlement of the stand-off, however, he may be disappointed. Arsenal, to whom the 25-year-old midfielder is contracted until 2004, responded tersely to his description of them as a club lacking ambition and financial clout by reiterating that he is "not for sale at any price".

In an interview with The Sun, Vieira insisted he had to leave "because I want to win more trophies and I just can't see that happening at Arsenal". Last season's runners-up would not come in the top five next time, he said, adding: "You can forget the Champions' League... With that budget [£25m] they won't even be in the top 20 in Europe."

Vieira's comments also included a swipe at compatriots such as Thierry Henry and Robert Pires for urging him to stay. "They have won nothing with Arsenal... They should try to win things for the club before they open their mouths."

While the vituperative nature of the critique was obviously calculated to make it impossible for him to stay, Arsenal could call his bluff by declining either to sell or to pick him. Since the coming campaign culminates in France's defence of the World Cup in the Far East, it is not a state of affairs he could allow to drag on.

Nor, on the other hand, would an impasse be in Arsenal's interests. With Vieira likely to fetch between £20m and £25m, talk of the club taking legal action to prevent his leaving smacks of cutting off le nez to spite le visage. The best Wenger could hope for, it seems, would be to ensure that his countryman joined one of his European suitors rather than bolster United's superiority.

Arsenal endured a similar situation, of course, with Nicolas Anelka two years ago. On that occasion, which ended with the French forward joining Real Madrid, they took the moral high ground, characterising him as a mercenary. Yet, ironically, they were on the receiving end of Bordeaux's righteous wrath last summer when Sylvain Wiltord effectively threatened a unilateral strike in order to force through his move to N5.

Vieira's commitment to Arsenal's cause on the pitch has never been in question. He was their outstanding performer last season, eclipsing Liverpool's much-vaunted Steven Gerrard in the FA Cup final, but now claims that he has been disillusioned with them since the departure of Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit 12 months ago. Wenger's signings this summer – he has already bought Francis Jeffers and Giovanni van Bronckhorst for a total of £18.5m – have done nothing to assuage him.

Vieira, who is sharing his vacation in Miami with his agent, Marc Roger, as well as his girlfriend, Sheryl, is evidently confident that his desirability as a player will outweigh the damage to his reputation that can occur when lavishly paid players demand the right to renege on contracts.

He may be right, notwithstanding Anelka's relative fall from grace, but in belittling Jeffers ("a boy") and Van Bronckhorst ("unproven") he is conveniently overlooking the fact that he was hardly a household name, in France let alone London, when Wenger rescued him from Milan in 1996. He had played only two games in Serie A after arriving from Cannes.

His downbeat assessment of Arsenal's prospects also seems at odds with the evidence. The Gunners, while undoubtedly in transition from the Seaman/Adams era to the age of Ashley Cole and Jermaine Pennant, have just enjoyed their best Champions' League run, coming within 14 minutes of a semi-final place. Moreover, they have been England's biggest close-season spenders, with a further £6m earmarked for Ipswich's Richard Wright.

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