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Don't kiss the badge - Femaiden

On July 17th I received an unexpected e-mail from an old friend who just happens to be going out with a relative of an Arsenal player. The e-mail essentially said that Patrick Vieira had told some of his team mates he was leaving for Real Madrid this summer.

Bombshell!

Shortly after this I had conformation of the same story from two other reliable sources. A day later, all media began covering the 'Vieira clears locker' story. Arsenal fans, fans of rival teams, printed media, internet sources and television pundits went on what gamblers refer to as 'tilt'. The media feeding frenzy became self-sustaining. 'Marca' would report speculation in 'The Sun' as fact.

The Sun would then take the Marca story as confirmation of their own scurrilous rumour which they pinched from a fan web-site. How do I know this to be true? Well I watched some of these fake rumours at their conception on a web-site. Yes it's true, a bunch of fans on a web-site can write their own headline for The Sun!

During this month long media free for all, Vieira remained silent, aloof, and did not take part in the pre-season games due to a mysterious thigh injury. Wenger, remained defiant, seemingly pledging Vieira's loyalty to the club on his behalf. I listened to many Arsenal fans' opinions, and many have asked mine. I remained firm: I had been reliably informed his intention was to leave, I wouldn't change this view until I had information otherwise.

My own "source close to the player" (Isn't that fun to write!) had gone mute. The range of fans' views encompassed the entire gamut of feelings from disgust and hatred to complete defiance. We've had debates on who should replace Vieira, and who should be the next club captain. As the saga progressed it became clear that both clubs and Vieira had entered negotiations. Arsenal played hardball over the price, as is their prerogative.

Rumours circulated that one board member in particular had decided that enough was enough and the Vieira circus had to stop - take the money and run. Wenger and Dein took the opposite view: Vieira is the best player in his position in the world today, and we're not about to lose him without a fight, especially on the cheap. Finally the story looked to be over, the Madrid mouthpiece Marca claimed that Vieira would be paraded as a Madrid player in early August and the English press gleefully followed suit. Then suddenly, it looked like it might not happen.

On hearing that the Vieira talks had stalled, I wrote: Vieira Woah oh oh, Vieira Woah oh oh, He nearly joined Madrid, But Michael Owen did Today, in August, Friday the 13th of all dates, Vieira finally spoke. "The ties that I have here were too strong for me to break. I'm staying at the club. I'm proud to be captain of the club and I'm looking forward to achieving my ambitions."

Terse and apparently final. Will this appease the fans? I'm not sure it will. Many I know feel weakened by the whole episode, several even suggesting that Patrick should have the captaincy taken away. Some have suggested that they are disappointed he's staying, questioning his loyalty and concerned of a repetition of these events in coming Januarys and Julys.

Others have cheered loudly and suggested that this is the perfect spring-board for the new seasons and that it's almost like having a new world-class signing - a view I have some sympathy for, having long prepared myself for his departure. I keep being reminded that this is not the first time Patrick has toyed with our emotions, and it probably won't be the last. We've had the Real Madrid saga once before, and let us not forget that he probably did come very close to signing for Manchester United.

As my tautologically challenged friend would say, "It's Déja Vue all over again." Personally, I feel very empty over the whole epic saga. The increasing commercialisation of football has concerned me greatly over the last decade, this is just another episode that weakens the innocent love of football that I once had.

As the years pass, I find myself becoming more cynical about the game, I wince less at a Pires dive than I once did, I no longer register surprise when I read of young footballers sexual expoitations, I now only shrug my shoulders when I hear an agent persuading his player to move on, and I have long given up on the notion of one club for life or that players feel the same sense of club loyalty as us fans.

So in this cynical age, I guess I should welcome back Vieira as the top player that he is. There is no doubt that Arsenal are stronger with him than without. I'll look forward to his battles with Keane and Gerrard and I might even convince myself to sing his song again.

Welcome back Patrick, but if by chance you ever come across this little note of mine, I would ask two things of you: make sure you lift the European Champions League Trophy in the red and white of Arsenal; and please, don't kiss the badge.