Former Arsenal and France midfielder Patrick Vieira faces a peculiar challenge as he prepares to take charge at New York City FC on Jan. 1.
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Patrick Vieira outlined his desire for a first-team managerial post in recent months. He saw his name linked to a handful of open Premier League positions and watched the potential vacancies carefully. His interest eventually prompted him to take the plunge when City Football Group offered him the chance to lead New York City FC next season.
It is a fascinating appointment from all perspectives. Vieira accepted a job with a high degree of difficulty and a puzzling lack of utility toward his goal of managing at the top level. CFG diverted from its chosen course after one season and plucked a relative novice to turn around a club that struggled in its expansion campaign.
Both parties enter this three-year deal with considerable risks at hand. Vieira must approach his new job carefully and rely on these tenets in order to give himself the best possible chance of success.
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Accept the peculiarities of the new job
MLS is a peculiar league. The salary budget system restricts the ability to build a deep squad or splurge on multiple players capable of strengthening the starting XI. The schedule exacerbates those limitations by playing through some international breaks and squeezing too many games into condensed periods of time. The travel taxes players and undermines their ability to produce consistently.
NYCFC compounds those issues with its own fundamental issues. The home ground is a baseball stadium with a narrow playing surface squeezed into the outfield. The training facilities are located on the campus of a university in Westchester County. The infrastructure of the club is still developing with the second season on the horizon and a host of voices contributing to the direction of the club.
Those realities are enough to frustrate and stymie any manager. Vieira must deal with the most pressing issues and then shunt the rest to the side. He cannot afford to find himself mired in the details at the expense of the bigger picture.
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The key to focusing on building a cohesive team: making sure others can sort out the particulars. NYCFC floundered on that front in its first season even with a former MLS Cup winner as coach and a veteran staff filled to the brim with experience and knowledge of the league. The task is considerably more difficult now with a new coach and a new technical staff charged with improving the side.
Vieira must focus keenly on the division of responsibilities. He must find someone capable of wrangling with all of the arcane requirements of MLS — perhaps sporting director Claudio Reyna or goalkeeper coach and former Philadelphia technical director Rob Vartughian — and taking those issues off his plate. And he must construct a technical staff capable of assessing the players in the squad, honing their abilities as much as possible and molding them into a competent side.
Hold realistic expectations about the strength of the squad
CFG targeted a playoff appearance in NYCFC’s first season. CFG executives splashed the cash on Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa and trusted that trio of stars to form the foundation of a successful side. The belated arrivals of Lampard and Pirlo hindered those efforts, while the weaknesses elsewhere — particularly in that ramshackle defense — undermined the postseason hopes by the end of the campaign.
One transfer window probably isn’t enough to cure all of the ills in this squad even with reinforcements likely to arrive from Manchester and elsewhere. The back four is in a desperate state. There are balance issues in midfield to create the proper dynamic of Lampard and Pirlo at this stage of their careers. And there isn’t a mechanism on hand to procure a top-class partner for Villa up front with all three Designated Player slots filled. Vieira must bridge the gap between his stars and his squad players, grasp the limitations quickly and learn how to work within them as he tries to improve the squad.
Identify the best way forward and stick with it
Structure looms as the key here. It is incumbent on Vieira to grapple with the pieces at his disposal and then set them out in a coherent, consistent fashion. MLS is not a league where squad rotation and tactical tinkering play much of a role. Success remains predicated on creating a viable shape and system, inspiring players to perform, playing the best available options until they pick up an injury or a suspension and trusting the reserves to patch over the gaps when they arise.
Former NYCFC coach Jason Kreis spent much of the expansion year shuffling through shapes and trying a raft of players in a bid to obtain the right balance. Vieira cannot afford the same upheaval, particularly with Lampard, Pirlo and Villa all in the fold from the start. He must devise a way forward and stick with it. It is the only way forward for a team that buckled under the weight of all of the chopping and changing in its first year.
Rely on familiar principles to establish the right tone
Vieira enters his first managerial post with the aid of a few years in Manchester City’s youth and reserve setups and the wealth of experience generated during his playing career. He is a novice in some senses, but he is vastly seasoned in terms of commanding respect and establishing common ground with people around him.
Those qualities loom as the key for Vieira as he enters MLS. The current state of the league places considerable value on fostering chemistry within the squad and setting a certain, easily discernible course. Those assignments fall within Vieira’s likely strengths at this nascent stage of his career. If he can figure out how to chart a way forward and forge the proper spirit within the team, then he can establish the parameters for success.