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Patrick Vieira says he was never offered the chance to represent Senegal
Vieira instead opted to play for France and was proud to do so
The former Arsenal captain feels African football needs to improve its organization
Patrick Vieira will forever be known as a World Cup winner, but had the country of his birth acted quicker his destiny might have turned out rather differently.
Vieira was a member of the France side that landed football’s greatest prize on home soil in 1998, but having been born in Dakar, Senegal, the former Arsenal captain has often faced questions as to why he didn’t play for the country of his birth.
Notably from former midfielder rival Roy Keane who reportedly said in 2005: “It makes me laugh, players going on about how they are saving this country and saving that country but when they have the opportunity to play…well, it’s probably none of my business.”
Vieira attributes his decision to play for les bleus partly to the Senegalese Football Federation’s failure to notice his burgeoning talent following his move to France as an eight-year-old.
“I didn’t have anybody from the Senegalese national team who came to me and proposed for me to play in the national team so the question was never there,” Vieira told CNN.
He came on as a second-half substitute in the 1998 World Cup final against Brazil, delivering the pass for Emmanuel Petit’s third goal in the 3-0 victory over the reigning world champions at the Stade de France.
And having won 107 caps for France between 1997 and 2009, Vieira has no regrets about the decision he made.
The 37-year-old arrived in France with his family, who were seeking a better way of life, and he remains forever grateful for the opportunity that the European nation presented him with.
“I enjoyed playing for the national team, the French national team, because I think France gave me a lot and gave my family a lot, so to wear the French national team shirt was really good and I wore it with pride,” he said.
“It had never been a decision to choose between the French national team or the Senegalese national team because I was growing up in France and playing in the French youth national team so it was something really normal.”
Eligible to play for France through his grandfather, Vieira went on to become the the fifth most-capped Frenchman behind Lilian Thuram, Thierry Henry, Marcel Desailly and Zinedine Zidane.
Along with Vieira, that quartet of players was key to France’s World Cup win in 1998 and the European Championship two years later.
Senegal’s inability to spot Vieira as a youngster and secure his international future provides evidence of African football’s structural failings, argues the current head of Manchester City’s elite development squad.
“I think what African football needs is better organization, better structure, and I think after that we’ll help the players to be more professional when they’re coming to play for their national team,” he said.
“And I think the federations have a massive responsibility on their shoulders because we know there is talent.
“When you look at the last five-to-six years, the number of players we had like Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, Kolo Toure, Salomon Kalou and Jay Jay Okocha – I can give you hundreds of names.
“I think the structure around these players is not strong enough and I think if we don’t have that, it will take time [for an African nation] to win the World Cup.”
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