With the odd exception or two, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City blew away all who crossed their path on the way to lifting this season’s Premier League title, playing a brand of football which was as effective as it was mesmerizing.
It’s a philosophy which runs through the core of the City Football Group, the Abu Dhabi-founded company which, alongside City, also owns MLS side New York City FC and a number of other clubs around the world.
“I’ve been part of the City Group, we want to play positive football, a positive game, attacking minded, trying to win games and what is really important is that we want to give pleasure to the fans who are coming to watch us play,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira told CNN Sport’s Alex Thomas on Wednesday.
NYCFC currently top the MLS Eastern Conference thanks to an unbeaten start to the season and, having observed Guardiola at work in Manchester in an attempt to glean as much knowledge as possible from the Spaniard, Vieira aims to implement a similar fluid style of football which has this season gained unanimous praise in England.
“I’ve been really privileged to play under some of the best managers in the world, really privileged to be part of the City Group and privileged, of course, to spend some time with Pep,” the former French international, who played for AC Milan, Arsenal, Inter Milan, Juventus and also City, said.
“To try to understand his philosophy and with my experience as a player I’ve been learning a lot.
Vieira was captain of Arsenal’s famous “Invincibles” team, the side which went an entire season unbeaten on the way to lifting the 2002/03 Premier League title.
Having played for what is widely regarded as one of the Premier League era’s greatest ever sides, the 41-year-old Vieira is acutely aware of the importance an attractive brand of football is to those watching in the stands.
“It’s not just about myself, it’s about all the football fans, people that just enjoy the game. I think everybody who has just been watching City has enjoyed watching their games of football,” he said.
“The way that this team has been playing this season has been fantastic. I think every single soccer fan enjoyed watching City.
“The approach of Pep and his team has been really good this year.”
‘One step backwards’
MLS has made significant strides in recent years to improve its quality and break away from the perception that it was a retirement home for Europe’s aging stars, though US Soccer’s reputation did suffer a blow in its failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
“I think it is just one step backwards, because of course you want the national team to be at the World Cup to promote the league and the quality of the players that are playing in that league,” he said.
“The league is improving every year. I think you just have to look at the quality of young players coming into the league. You know, you just have to look at the last game we played at Atlanta.
“Look at the stadium, the atmosphere and the quality of the players on the field. It is a really competitive league and more this year than it was in the previous year and that is really good for the league.”
Efforts to recruit young and exciting South American talent, spearheaded by Atlanta United last season, has also helped made the league more dynamic.
When Vieira’s NYCFC visited Atlanta on Sunday, playing out an entertaining 2-2 draw, the two sides between them boasted five of the league’s most exciting young players.
The French coach believes Sunday’s opponents have raised the bar and set a new standard for all MLS teams to follow.
Last season, Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium four times broke the MLS record for the best attended match and also set a new average season attendance record.
The club has cultivated a fan culture like no other in MLS, combining a sensible pricing policy for food and drink while also tapping into the local community’s passion by getting fans to help design the badge.
“I think Atlanta raised the level of the quality of the stadium and the quality of the fans really quite high,” Vieira says.
“They are doing really well promoting MLS around the world and I think when you play in Europe look at the quality of players, but look at the atmosphere in the stadiums and I think that gives you the desire to come and play in the MLS. This is really good for the league.”
Sunday’s draw extended NYCFC’s unbeaten start to 2018 to seven games and already puts them four points ahead of their nearest rivals, Atlanta United.
Vieira, however delighted with the way his team is playing, is refusing to get ahead of himself.
“Of course we are really pleased, but at the same time we also know that it’s just the start of the league,” he says cautiously.
“There’s still a really long way to go but we are really pleased with the way we are playing the game and the way that we are working hard for each other.
“What is really important for me is that the players are enjoying themselves on the field and they are enjoying playing together and that’s really good for me as a coach.”