Plenty of Premier League stars have overcome underwhelming debut seasons to blossom in England’s top-flight – and we’ve just received indication that Fabio Vieira could be next.
It’s fair to say that Vieira didn’t make the desired impact at Arsenal last season. Bought for £34million from Sporting Lisbon, the midfielder played only a bit-part role in the Gunners’ title challenge in the form of three Premier League starts.
“[Mikel] Arteta, he looks at £34 million Vieira on his bench and doesn’t bring him on, so he doesn’t have faith that he’s going to improve the team that was out there,” Gary Neville said while commentating on Arsenal’s goalless draw with Newcastle United back in January.
“Mikel obviously thought he would’ve weakened the side by bringing him on.”
Six months later, anybody that witnessed Arsenal’s 5-3 victory over Barcelona in their latest Stateside friendly will realise, not for the first time, that Neville was chatting out of his derriere.
Bukayo Saka and Kai Havertz were among the goals, while Leandro Trossard bagged a brace as Arteta’s side put their disappointing defeat against Manchester United behind them.
But surely the most pleasing aspect of Arsenal’s night was Vieira’s drippy cameo. The 23-year-old came off the bench to frighten the Barcelona defence with his close control and speed that left tyre tracks on the SoFi Stadium pitch.
With the Gunners leading 4-3 deep into the second half, Gabriel Martinelli showcased his awareness and sheer cheek with a delightful flick into Vieira’s path.
If Martinelli’s contribution was stellar, Vieira’s would deserve an entire module in future coaching manuals. Guiding the ball onto his left foot, the Arsenal midfielder opened his body and unleashed a jaw-dropping boomerang into the top corner.
It would’ve made no difference if Barcelona had fielded the lovechild of Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas between the sticks. Vieira’s shot was destined to make the net bulge.
Fabio Vieira grabs a fifth for Arsenal from range.👏 pic.twitter.com/nI6NRlFR0n
— AFCnewsroom (@TheAFCnewsroom) July 27, 2023
Speaking to O Jogo in March, Vieira admitted that he had found it difficult to adapt to life in England upon arriving, but was quick to assure that he is “enjoying it” now.
“I got here injured,” the midfielder said. “It’s always different for a new player to get here, to a new country, a different culture, everything is different. It was difficult, but after a few months I’m ready, I’m enjoying it, I’ve developed a lot and I’m here to help the team.
“When you get injured, you’re always one step behind the others. I think it’s only a matter of time, to be there, to help the team, to show my qualities. English football is more difficult for skinny players.”
As a player, he went on to compare himself to Manchester City star Bernardo Silva: “Of course I admire him, he is an extraordinary player.
“I know him very well from Portugal, he has played before at Benfica. I think we are similar players with similar qualities, too.”
But Vieira is perhaps not alone when identifying Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as his primary influences.
Speaking to the club website, he explained: “Ronaldo not because he is Portuguese, but he is really someone who really inspires others with his work ethic, how he had to leave his family and his comfort zone to sign for Sporting, and for him to build the career that he has built inspires everyone.
“Messi is more to do with my style of play,” he added. “I am similar to Messi and I appreciate the way that he plays.”
There were definitely elements of Messi in Vieira’s Los Angeles golazo, from the knack of ghosting into space to peeling off an unsavable curler beyond the despairing dive of an opposition goalkeeper.
Competition for places at the Emirates will be fierce and expectation sky-high as Arsenal look to challenge Manchester City in the league and make their mark on their Champions League return.
It’ll be surprising if Vieira becomes a regular starter, but there’s also a strong possibility that we’re only just beginning to see the best of the talented youngster.
By Michael Lee