Tottenham Hotspur are exploring the possibility of signing the former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira but the deal will only work if they can get the player on a free transfer from his current club Internazionale.
In what would be one of the most controversial transfers of the summer, Vieira, 33, would – if Spurs get their way – arrive at White Hart Lane as a free signing despite having one year left on his contract at Internazionale. The player himself is understood to be keen on the move and simply wants to play first-team football, having not always figured under Jose Mourinho in the last season.
The interest would not have been pursued by Harry Redknapp if the Spurs manager had not been given encouragement from the player himself that he would be prepared to take the inevitable flack from Arsenal fans as well as the scepticism from Spurs. Saving the transfer fee would enable Spurs to pay Vieira more although they are, as ever, eager not to lavish too much money on his wages.
The next move is down to Internazionale and Mourinho, who must decide whether they will allow Spurs to take Vieira off their hands for nothing. The club acquired him three years ago from Juventus for £6.5m when the latter were demoted to Serie B for their part in the Luciano Moggi scandal. Vieira would be offered a one-year deal with an option for a further year.
His legs do not carry him about the pitch as they once did when he was Arsenal captain but Vieira offers what Redknapp has long complained is absent in his Spurs squad. He wants a player of sufficient standing and authority to unify the players and set some examples at the training ground. In Vieira he sees a ready-made leader who would prove valuable in his influence throughout the squad.
Following his woeful performance against Manchester United in the Champions League at Old Trafford last season, there is likely to be a fear among Spurs fans that Vieira's legs have gone. However the Frenchman, who left Arsenal four years ago for £13.75m, is convinced that he has been played out of position by Mourinho – to the left rather than in a central midfield position – and that he can still contribute in his favoured role.
Redknapp has sold Didier Zokora to Seville this summer and would listen to offers for Jermaine Jenas. Ideally he would like to keep Tom Huddlestone. With Wilson Palacios signed from Wigan in January, competition for places in the centre of midfield would be about right should he be able to persuade Vieira to join.
Tottenham are considering a number of targets, including the Portsmouth striker Peter Crouch whose £70,000-a-week wages are an issue. They had considered the Roma striker Mirko Vucinic who signed a new deal at the Italian club last month and said yesterday that he would not consider Spurs. "Obviously there are places where I would not want to go," he said. "Tottenham? Let's reject that."
Patrick Vieira lost once in 17 matches against Tottenham during his 10 years with Arsenal, scoring five goals.