Patrick Vieira's life story, from humble beginnings in Senegal to triumph with France, shows that football is the world's most globalised industryby Simon Kuper / February 26, 2006 / Leave a comment
Vieira: My Autobiography by Patrick Vieira with Debbie Beckerman (Orion, £18.99)
Click here to buy Patrick Viera’s autobiography from amazon.co.uk
Vieira /Ohohohoh /He comes from Senegal /He plays for Arsenal /Vieira /Ohohohoh
Sung by Arsenal supporters to the tune of Volare, this became one of the most famous of English football chants. A star at the club from 1996 until 2005, Vieira did come from Senegal before emigrating to France as a child. But his father, whom he never knew, was from Gabon, while his mother came from the Cape Verde islands. His book confirms that soccer beats banking as the world’s most globalised industry.
The immigrants’ sons who populate the French soccer team tend to be sentimental about their roots. Vieira is no exception: when he loses with France to Senegal at the 2002 world cup, he admits to “slightly mixed feelings.” Yet he was so nervous about visiting his native land that he put off his return for 20 years. “I dreaded the thought that I might disappoint those people who had waited all this time for me,” he writes. He felt the need to bring something back with him, and so, when he finally flew “home” in 2003, it was with a project to open a football academy in Senegal.
He appears to have worried about being too rich to go back home—a common fear among footballers. In Dakar he is taken to his old home where former neighbours tell him stories of their times together. He remembers nothing. “I was embarrassed, ill at ease,” he admits. He concludes that having lived so intensely in football, he has little mental space for other memories.
Vieira was seven when his family emigrated to France. At first they lived in the Parisian suburb of Trappes, and later in Dreux, a town 60 miles outside Paris. The child Vieira, his mother testifies in the book, “was constantly kicking a football about.” This sounds like a cliché. In fact it helps explain why ethnic minorities—half the current Dutch team, most of the French team—dominate Euro-pean football. Raised in small apartments, with few means of entertainment, and little nagging from parents to do their homework, these kids spent hours each day playing football outside. That is why they became better footballers than the white middle classes. It wasn’t because they saw sport as an escape from…