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My Vieira and Sol signings
HAVING signed many experienced players during my time as Saints manager, it is easy for me to understand why Arsene Wenger and Roberto Mancini have brought Sol Campbell and Patrick Vieira back to the Premiership.
But I was surprised Wenger re-signed a 35-year-old Campbell after reading an interview Denis Bergkamp gave in his native Holland recently.
Bergkamp is one of the Premiership’s all-time best foreign imports for the fantastic job he did for Arsenal.
So I was interested in his insight into the way Wenger worked while he was there.
Arsene apparently believed that when a player reached 30 he would give him less time on the pitch.
If anything, players of that age who are interntaionals, certainly in my experience, want to play more often.
Bergkamp was no different but, when he asked why he was not playing,Wenger would tell him the stats showed that his sprints were not as frequent or as long as they used to be.
The response from Bergkamp was what I know senior professionals would have said in my time.
“Where have you got written down the number of final and decisive passes that I made into the penalty box?’ Like most of today’s managers, Wenger uses technical help such as Prozone, which apparently tracks’ players movements during a game.
No one can argue that this is not progress and I’m sure I would employ these techniques if I returned to management tomorrow.
But Bergkamp’s point shows that even the machines have got certain limitations.
Like Bergkamp, Vieira was a legend in his time with the Gunners but, at 33, I always thought he was more likely to sign for Manchester City than return to Arsenal.
Then, what happens?
Sol Campbell, probably of pensionable age as far as Wenger is concerned, is re-signed by the Gunners manager.
It is never good to have definite ideas about when footballers come to the end of their usefulness, but why would Wenger and Mancini want to buy players in their mid-30s when funds appear to be available to hand-pick from anywhere in the world?
As Saints manager I didn’t have a lot of funding, even by the standards of those days, and we only signed a lot of senior players because they were at the end of their careers at the highest level.
Due to our productive youth system, we were able to mix youth with experience and I found that the right senior player, someone who has done it all at every level, brings with him a unique presence.
Vieira and Campbell will also bring leadership into the dressing rooms at Man City and Arsenal.
They will be 100 per cent behind their manager who, let’s face it, has given them a final chance at the highest level.
There will often be a few grumbles in the squad, particularly at clubs with such a big rotation system. But these players are able to command total respect and demand that everyone toes the line behind the manager and his staff.
I can’t remember the oldest player I signed but certain signings stand out.
The first of the big names of course was the late, great Peter Osgood.
His England days were over but, once we got him fit again, Ossie more than proved his usefulness to us.
Peter Rodrigues probably falls into the same category as Vieira in that his illustrious career at international level, which included captaining Wales, was over.
His career at Sheffield Wedneday had come to an end and I heard that Peter was about to leave the game altogether.
I needed a right back at the time so I signed him on a free tranfer for two years.
Halfway through his first year he became captain and picked up the FA Cup from the Queen at Wembley in 1976.
His second year was plagued by injury but it was a satisfying end to a great career for player, club and manager.
Alan Ball, still sadly missed by everyone who met him, was another fantastic influence.
One morning before training, my assistant, Lew Chatterley, was whipping everyone up in the dressing room before training.
Having had a late night, Alan said: “Lew, you need a crane to lift me today!”
Yet the minute his little feet stepped on the the grass Ball lit up like a performer on a stage.
He always gave 100 per cent and enjoyed every second of his time, even in the worst weathers, culminating in a fantastic 90 minutes every Saturday.
When you have a World Cup winner in your squad behaving like that, there is no excuse for anyone else to underperform.
That is something that has never changed.
And it is possibly the reason the Premiership will see Vieira and Campbell appear again this year for an encore to both of their glorious careers.