Patrick Vieira’s time with New York City FC is over. It was a day many knew would come. Everyone knew Vieira had big expectations and big ambitions that would someday take him towards a top job overseas.
But, while his time with NYCFC is now finished, the impact of his stay should remain for quite some time.
Vieira was the driving force of NYCFC’s growth from fledgling expansion team to legitimate contender. It’s easy to forget just how much NYCFC progressed during Vieira’s two-and-a-half year stay and it’s easy to overlook just how much the Frenchman meant to the club’s current culture and construction.
Before Vieira, NYCFC had just been dealt a harsh lesson. Under Jason Kreis, the expansion club had thrown money around to rival any team in MLS, constructing a squad based around David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and Mix Diskerud. Aside from Villa, the rest floundered as a club with a culture based around past successes failed to catch up to a rapidly evolving league.
In came Vieira as the former Arsenal star took charge of the team prior to the 2016 season and, with him, came a legitimate culture and style. A word frequently thrown around during Vieira’s stay was “identity”, and that identity helped push NYCFC towards the top of MLS throughout Vieira’s stay.
Vieira’s teams played out of the back even if, early on, it was to the team’s detriment. Vieira’s teams worked hard in the midfield and pushed to play attacking soccer, even if the team didn’t always have the necessary pieces in place. As those pieces came in, you began to see Vieira’s vision: a team that could play attractive, attacking, technically-sound soccer in a way that was pragmatic enough to work in MLS.
It wasn’t always perfect. His record in Hudson River Derbies is hard to overlook. The postseason has been a bit of a challenge for NYCFC during his two runs. There have been moments where NYCFC was too married to style and too rigid to change in time.
Still, the on-field results are largely there, but it’s the off-the-field culture change that truly headlined Vieira’s stay with NYCFC. Under him, the club grew up and found its stride and purpose in MLS.
Continuing that will be a major challenge. Vieira has a presence around him unmatched by many in world soccer, and that presence was legitimately matched by a strong tactical acumen and ability to teach the game at any level. Plenty of high level players have transitioned to management with varying success, but Vieira has a talent for it. That’s why Manchester City placed so much faith in him, and that’s why Nice came calling.
His replacement, Domenec Torrent, comes to New York with quite a resume and reputation. He’s been one of Pep Guardiola’s top assistants for quite some time and has won titles with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City. He’s worked with Villa, Lionel Messi, and a number of the world’s top stars and helped forge some of the best teams of all time.
But that’s no guarantee for success and that’s no guarantee that NYCFC will continue on the path that Vieira had pushed them towards. As things stand, NYCFC looks set to contend in the East, but there MLS Cup chances have certainly changed with his departure.
It’s a departure we knew would come, and one that’s certainly deserved. It’s too soon to know what it means for MLS or what its impact will be on an NYCFC club that will now need to extend its identity under a new regime. But, for Vieira, it’s a deserved step, and one he seems prepared to tackle after growing in his own ways during his time in MLS.