IS VIEIRA THE WORLD'S BEST DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER?
By Matt Pomroy
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
"He is a player par excellence", Toppmoller enthused. "He wins every fight, anticipates the ball and is very aggressive. I'm not surprised that every team wants to buy him. He's one of the best players in the world."
Those who saw the game would have to concede that Vieira was excellent, and in a break from tradition, Arsene Wenger saw what happened on the pitch too:- "He won the ball and played it forward for the first two goals and then scored the third. There is not a better player in the world in that role but I have said that many times before."
Praise indeed, but just how influential is he? For a start you have to highlight the fact that this season Vieira has made 140 Premiership tackles which is not only more than any other player at Arsenal, it is more than any other player in the top flight. Within Highbury, that total is 58 more than the next-most prolific tackler (Ray Parlour) and the Frenchman is ever willing to stand tall and break up attacks, something he does with great success, winning over three quarters of the tackles he has attempted.
In terms of his contemporaries within football, it does hold up that all-round he's an outstanding player. However, there are other names that could well be considered as competition to Vieira. Roy Keane has won a superior 78% of his tackles although he has attempted 59 fewer, while at Juventus Edgar Davids appears close to perfecting the art of ball winning with an 87% tackle success rate, although again the number of challenges that he has gone in for (61) is lower.
A move to Real Madrid is something that has been mooted for some time now and the fact that Madrid are interested at all is a sign of how highly regarded Vieira is in world football. Currently at the Bernabeu, it is either Claude Makelele or Ivan Helguera occupying the defensive midfield berth - sometimes both - and the stats show that Vieira would improve the team's standing.
Any player with the ability to 'improve Real Madrid's midfield' must have something, but Makelele and Helguera have only won 62% and 61% of their challenges respectively and with a pass completion rate of 81%, the Arsenal player would certainly appear to have what it takes to fit into the Real side.
His stats are also better than Liverpool's defensive duo of Dietmar Hamann and Steve Gerrard - a pairing who will be the main ball winners in the forthcoming World Cup for Germany and England respectively. Hamann was also linked with a move to Real but has attempted fewer tackles (126) and has won an inferior 71%. Gerrard has won 68% of the 76 tackles he has gone in for.
The Liverpool youngster has claimed that he models himself on Vieira and can currently boast more goal assists (seven), while at Old Trafford Keane has set up five strikes - three more than the Gunner, who does like to come forward also as he showed last night. And if there is a weakness to Vieira's game it is his ability in front of goal - this season he has attempted 24 shots but just four of them have hit the target.
To say that Vieira is the best in his position in the world is a subjective opinion. But his quality is apparent and although Keane, Davids, Helguera. Diego Simeone, Fernando Redondo, Jens Jeremies and Emerson could all be in contention for the accolade of best defensive midfielder in the game, it does seem that Vieira is in outstanding form at present. He said that he wants to get his future sorted out before he goes to the World Cup with France and all the praise heaped upon him at Arsenal could well be the catalyst to speed up Madrid's interest. Toppmoller is in no doubt though: "Vieira is by miles the best footballer in his position in the world."