NYCFC boss Patrick Vieira: MLS completely changed in 10 years
Patrick Vieira never expected to find himself in the dugout, let alone living in the Big Apple, but the Arsenal and France great is loving life at New York City FC.
After dominating the midfield at some of Europe's biggest clubs as well as his national team, the 41-year-old Frenchman has developed into an exciting coach.
Vieira's work with Manchester City's elite development squad led to him being coaxed across the Atlantic in late 2015 by NYCFC -- the side established by the Premier League club and baseball giants New York Yankees.
The World Cup winner took over a side reeling from a poor inaugural season in Major League Soccer but quickly transformed the team, who now sit second in the Supporters' Shield standings having reached the Eastern Conference semifinals in his first campaign in charge.
"It was a surprise [to become a coach] because I have never been to that position, to be honest,'' NYCFC head coach Vieira told Press Association Sport.
"Of course when you play you are still in action and you don't see yourself doing something else, but I have been put into this position with Manchester City Under-23s and I loved it.
"Every year I'm getting more experience and this is something I really love doing.''
Vieira has an eclectic mix of players to call upon, from David Villa -- back in the Spain squad after three years -- and Andrea Pirlo, to Jack Harrison, a 20-year-old from Bolton who was part of Manchester United's academy.
The latter was first pick in the 2016 SuperDraft before a trade deal was organised to take him from the Chicago Fire to NYCFC -- the kind of complexities that make MLS difficult for many to fully grasp.
Then there is a salary cap to juggle and peculiarities like being mic'd up on the touchline, but Vieira has embraced the differences to the football world he grew up in and believes the league is only going one way.
"I think the game in the MLS is completely different from 10 years ago,'' said Vieira, who lives close to Central Park in Manhattan.
"When you look at the quality of the international players coming to the country, of course that raises the level of the game.
"When you look at the last five years, the young players who come in... and I strongly believe there will be young players who will come from all around Europe because the quality of the MLS is good and really interesting.
"I think the MLS is in a certain phase but when you have quality players like we have in our team, who come in and bring their experience and try to help the game to develop, this is how the MLS will improve.''
The league will soon expand as Los Angeles FC join and David Beckham's Miami team edge closer to finalisation, while 12 other cities are currently vying for two other spots.
NYCFC's place among more established MLS sides has been boosted by the help of Manchester City, who have loaned talented Venezuelan midfielder Yangel Herrera to a fellow member of the expanding City Football Group.
"I think it is a big family,'' Vieira said. "There are some big clubs around and to have the support from the City Group of course it is important.
"We're working hard, we will try to work well, but at the end of the day it is important for us here to win games because winning games dictates how well you are doing.
"All the coaches in the City Group are quite really busy with their domestic game, but of course when there is a break, it's always an option to go to learn from other coaches.
"Last year I went to spend a week, 10 days with Pep [Guardiola] in Manchester. The next one maybe I will go to Melbourne City.
"I think it is always interesting to go and get more experience talking to different coaches and try to open their mind a little bit.''
Vieira is certainly benefiting from his jam-packed start to life in coaching, leading to links in recent months to the top jobs at Southampton and Saint-Etienne.
Asked if his ambition was to return to Europe and coach a big club down the line, perhaps even Manchester City, the NYCFC head coach said: "No, the ambition for me is to be in a club where I can do what I really want, and in a club where I have full support of people, belief in what I can bring to the football club.
"I am looking for happiness in what I am doing.
"At the moment I am really pleased with the project we have here in the City Group in New York and I will [continue to] enjoy it.''