Today, you are a man.
When he was but a little tyke kicking a makeshift ball up and down the streets of Dakar, Senegal, lil' Patrick Vieira might not have envisioned even a fraction of what was to come.
But honestly, considering all the individual honors and the global philanthropic efforts and the Invincibles and winning the World Cup and Euro 2000 and the boatload of league titles etched on the man's CV, it's hard to imagine that New York City FC's head coach is only 40 years of age. When I first met up with him last summer in Manhattan, his massive right hand so totally enveloped mine that he seemed like some kind of supernatural cosmic entity, a la Galactus, for whom "age" was an irrelevant cultural construct of lesser beings.
Vieira made England's PFA Team of the Year six times, the first coming in 1998, just shy of his 22nd birthday. When I was that age, I could barely even yell at the television and drink Modelo at the same time. I was minoring in English and majoring in Super Smash Bros. I certainly wasn't just a few weeks away from hoisting the World Cup in front of my home fans.
Patrick Vieira, you have lived, man.
When the rumors began to bubble up that Jason Kreis was due to get the sack after one season in charge of NYCFC, the consensus at Hudson River Blue's sprawling corporate headquarters in Queens was that dumping the former MLS Cup-winning manager for Vieira, who had never coached a senior team before (much less a senior team working within the often baffling economic wonderland of Major League Soccer), would have been an ill-advised move.
In retrospect, we ought to have been more optimistic: despite all the blown leads at home, the 7-0 Crime Against Blue-manity, the flaccid and odious U.S. Open Cup crashout, and the shockingly poor reputation NYCFC fans have in the eyes of a serious number of media outlets and opposing fanbases, Patrick Vieira is doing a pretty reasonable job with the tools he's been given.
Even as a late-thirty-something, Vieira matched a young man's audacity with a much older gent's measured wisdom. Would Jason Kreis have had the cajones to bench a healthy Mix Diskerud in exchange for Mikey "Live Wire" Lopez? To sit the well-paid Andoni Iraola long enough to produce an impressive string of RJ Allen star-turns at right fullback? To throw teenage Jack Harrison into the fray, only to be rewarded with a sexy backheel assist and a pretty reel of sick-nasty dribbling moves?
Really, as a player, we eventually figured out Patrick Vieira. But as a coach, the man is an iconoclast. Who else could have showed up in MLS as a tenderfoot, only to turn around and play a 3-2-2-3 formation in his first-ever home game?
In the words of acclaimed contemporary philosopher Keith Sweat: "nobody, baby."
Forget the fact that the 3-2-2-3 didn't produce the desired results, and Vieira now rides or dies solely with a 4-3-3. But the very fact that he's been utterly unafraid to try shit without devolving into spastic tinkering has been tremendously reassuring to me.
Youu might say, as it stands, that I'm quite really pleased.
Happy birthday, Patrick.
Just remember to save some cake for Yaya Toure. Seriously. It's important.