These days, it’s increasingly unusual for a signing to come as a total surprise. Arsenal’s acquisition of 22-year-old Fabio Vieira, however, came with plenty of surprises – a real thunderbolt from FC Porto’s blues and whites.
If fans were surprised by the speed of the deal, they weren’t the only ones. “It was quick for me too,” says Vieira Athleticism with a smile. “Coming to Arsenal happened very quickly. But I felt ready. Now is my time.
It was a quick move, but one that had been in the works for a long time. Born in Santa Maria de Feira, a medieval town inland on the Portuguese coast, Vieira joined the local team aged five before being recruited by Porto’s academy aged seven. “I always dreamed of playing for Porto when I was young,” he says. “But my real dream was to play in the Premier League.”
Vieira shares a name with a player who has already achieved iconic status in England and at Arsenal. Although born in 2000, the Portuguese youngster is well aware of the achievements of his namesake. “Of course Patrick Vieira is a legend,” he says. “I remember seeing him on TV in the Premier League and the national team.”
The coincidence means the new signing arrives with a ready-made chant. “I heard the fans sing it during our friendly match in Germany!” He laughs before shyly intoning the song: “’Vieira, whoah!’ »
Arsenal moved quickly to secure this new signing of Vieira. A number of other top European clubs were circling, but with only one full season of top-flight football under his belt, most expected him to stay in the Primeira Liga for another year. Arsenal knew their best chance of landing him was to act now – and manager Mikel Arteta was in love enough to take the plunge.
“The conversations with the manager and Edu were very important,” says Vieira. “They told me they want me at Arsenal. I liked the project because they want the young players in the team to compete against each other, play together for three or four years.
“They spoke with Porto and my agent – things went very quickly and smoothly. I’m very happy to be here now. It was an easy choice: Arsenal are a historic club.
And for Vieira, it provided a chance to realize his ambition to play in England. “It’s the best league in the world,” he says emphatically. “England has always attracted me. Great Portuguese players have played here: Cristiano Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Moutinho, Joao Cancelo. I want to follow them.
The statement is typical of Vieira, who speaks softly, but with quiet confidence. It’s no coincidence that many of the players cited by Vieira are known for their attacking skills. Growing up, his idols were fellow countryman Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
“I love Ronaldo and Messi,” he says. “I like Messi because of his style of play. It’s like mine – left foot, some of the same qualities. And Ronaldo not because he’s Portuguese, but because of hard work and mentality. It’s unbelievable. And he scores a lot of goals. They’re incredible players.”
Even at a young age, Vieira had an idea of the kind of football he aspires to – and he believes Arsenal matches that ambition. “I like attacking football, beautiful football,” he says. “Possession. Quality.”
“I’m an offensive player,” he continues. “I like to make the last pass and help my teammates score. And I also like to score goals. A record of six goals and 11 assists in 27 league appearances last season would seem to confirm that.
Naturally, talks with Arteta included talks about Vieira’s potential role on the pitch. “The manager told me he knew I could play as a midfielder – No 8, No. 10 — or on the fender, left side or right side. They know I’m a versatile player. Like most creative footballers, Vieira is most comfortable right behind the striker. “I prefer number 10,” he admits. “That’s my true position.”
Vieira is around 5ft 7in (170cm) tall and has a slight frame. Naturally, the Premier League physique is likely to test him. The Portugal U-21 international is fearless, however. “It’s a big challenge,” he concedes. “The Premier League is more intense, more physical. I’m not a physical player, so I have to work hard and develop my physique.
“But for me, it’s my intelligence and my quality that are the most important. In Portugal, I never had a problem with the physical side. Before the ball comes towards me, I have to watch and think about what will happen next. Intelligence is one of my qualities.
Vieira has experienced the intensity of English football before. “We played against Liverpool last season so I got a taste of the Premier League. It was a different challenge, in the Champions League, against an incredible team. They are very physical, but I felt confident. I felt good on the pitch. Here is that certainty again. “I’m ready for this season.
Nevertheless, he is humble enough to accept that there are areas where he can improve. “I’m an attacking player but I have to work on the defensive side. Defensive moments are very important in football, especially in the Premier League: it’s more physical, more powerful. I’m focused on that. My coaches at Porto worked with me last season to improve my physical ability and concentration in defensive moments.
Coming to England is an important step for a young player. It is a journey into the unknown. “My family is a normal family, a working family,” he says. “No one in my family has played football before; I was the first. I spent 15 years in Porto. This is my first big change. »
He is helped by the fact that Arsenal have a growing number of Portuguese-speaking players. On the flight to America, Vieira sat with Cedric, Gabriel Martinelli and fellow newcomers Gabriel Jesus and Marquinhos. He is convinced that the camaraderie will help him settle down.
“I have guys who speak Portuguese here, the Brazilians,” he says. “It’s easier for me because they help me with the language.” It won’t take him long to adapt. Despite a charming insistence that English is not his forte, he conducts the entire interview in his third language – in addition to his native Portuguese, he is also a confident Spanish speaker. He is helped along the way by his new teammates.
“Obviously we speak to each other in Portuguese, but sometimes also in English, because me and Marquinhos need to learn English. His English is worse than mine!
For young Latin players, Cédric, 30, is a valuable mentor. “He’s a good professional; he tries to help everyone,” says Vieira. “It’s important. He’s older, he has experience — he won the European Championship with Portugal. He’s a good person.”
Vieira played with Nuno Tavares in the Portuguese U-21 side, and they have a good rapport – even though Tavares insists on calling him a notorious TV villain. “He says I look like T-Bag from Prison Break,” Vieira laughs. “Oh my god, he calls me that all the time!” He always jokes with me. Does Vieira see the resemblance? An equivocal shrug, a contrite smile: “More or less!”
Vieira will soon undergo the traditional Arsenal induction, rising to perform a song in front of his new teammates. “I haven’t had to do mine yet, but it’s coming,” he says. “Cedric warned me: ‘Get ready!’.”
“We do the same thing in Porto, but in Porto it’s different because it’s my home and I know the people! But I’ll be fine, no problem. It’s not easy, but let’s do it!
As always, Vieira is one step ahead. “I like Brazilian music, Latin songs,” he says. “It’s a good choice — when I start singing, the others will join me! It will be easier, they will help me!
Vieira’s girlfriend comes to England to stay with him, her family plans to visit her soon. “They are my support,” he says. Once the summer heat wave has passed, he will have to embrace a new climate. “In Portugal, the weather is 90% good. I know England will be different. But that’s life!”
When a photo of Vieira in a protective boot appeared on social media, Arsenal fans panicked. However, he is quick to dispel any concerns. “It’s a small injury that I suffered with the national team a month ago,” he explains. “Now I feel really good. I’m not training 100% yet, but I’m running. Day by day I’m improving. And in a few days I’ll be back training with my teammates.
Fabio Vieira is injured in the foot. Seen here with a protective boot. pic.twitter.com/9YrdPkBji9
— Connor Humm (@TikiTakaConnor) July 1, 2022
His goals next season include making the move to the senior Portuguese international team and returning to the Champions League – this time with Arsenal. Like any newcomer, he knows that a period of acclimatization is inevitable. “Usually we need a bit of time to adapt – to get to know the city, the league, the way other teams play,” he says.
“But I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to play at the Emirates Stadium with the fans. It’s a fantastic stadium, fantastic fans, our fans are amazing.
“I am excited to begin.”
(Main image: Produced by Sam Richardson using Getty Images)