Vieira chose to leave Highbury, insists Wenger

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The Independent Online

Arsène Wenger yesterday shed more light on the transfer of Patrick Vieira to Juventus last summer when he admitted that he let the midfielder make the final decision, one which turned out to be one between his head and his heart.

After years of rebuffing approaches from Real Madrid, Arsenal listened when the reigning Italian Serie A champions came in with an offer for their captain that was worth £13.5m to the club and a five-year deal for Vieira.

The France international established his worldwide reputation as one of the best players in the world during his nine years at Highbury but with his contract running down at Arsenal, Wenger, who brought Vieira to the club from Milan, let his compatriot make up his own mind.

"It was not that he was not wanted here any more," said Wenger. "We left the final word to him. He had two more years left with us and five years on offer from Juventus at 29 years of age.

"He would have been 31 at the end of his contract here and he's getting three more years [from Juventus]. You have to respect that. It's right that he left in the year that he wanted less to leave than the other years. But he made a choice of rationality more than of heart."

Vieira's move to Turin provoked huge surprise in football, and Wenger was just as shocked when informed yesterday that Roy Keane, Vieira's long-standing adversary, had parted company with Manchester United. But the Arsenal manager immediately ruled out a move for the Irishman, who is available on a free transfer, and predicted that United would take time to adjust to his impromptu departure.

"It is a complete surprise. However, he will find a top club but at the moment I don't consider buying him. I think he will still play on but maybe he will have to stop for medical reasons. It takes time for a team to adjust to the loss of a player of his quality. It has taken us time to make the separation from Vieira. It will take a little bit of time for United as well."

Wenger added, however, that thanks to his recent outburst against his team-mates Keane himself may have been partly the architect of his exit from Old Trafford. "He looked recently more and more disenchanted with his partners in the team. Maybe it is not as big a surprise as it may look. This was the first year Keane was in the newspapers after not seeing him [there] for many years. It is a dangerous game.

"I believe he was a massive influence on the pitch when we played against them. He was United's football brain, he was highly motivated and he was a quality player. At 34 he is not what he was in central midfield aged 28. But he is still a top Premier League player and a loss for United."

Wenger takes his team to Wigan today impressed with the Premiership debutants' form and calling their manager Paul Jewell a "super miracle-worker" for taking them to second place.

Yet he is confident that his own side can overcome the handicap of being without either of its left-backs. Both Ashley Cole and Gaël Clichy are injured, which will mean Pascal Cygan or Kolo Touré playing out of position on the left.

Wenger said: "Losing both my left-backs is a problem but I believe the players who are available can do it and we can cope. We have done it in the past and we will do it again."

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