Patrick Vieira will aim to get the better of successor Cesc Fabregas when he returns to Arsenal FC with new club Juventus in the UEFA Champions League.
Any nerves? "Not at all, no. I've got enough experience to deal with that. I know how to prepare myself, I know what to expect. My only focus is the game." Emotions? "Not at all. I'm really trying to focus on the game. That is all that matters to me. The emotional side will come after the game." A slight pause when asked whether he was happy Juve had been pitted against Arsenal in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, then back to the script. "I don't know. Playing against Arsenal or any other team is just the same. What is important is to win the game and go to the next round."
Vieira, 29, will be pivotal if Juve are to go one better than last season, when they ran out of ideas and energy against another English side, Liverpool FC, at this stage. Much will depend on how Vieira fares against his protégé, 18-year-old Cesc Fabregas. In Vieira's absence Arsenal have changed considerably, with Fabregas the face of a hungry, new generation. "Since he started training with us and playing with us he did really well, so I'm not surprised at all that he is doing so well at the moment," Vieira said.
In contrast, Vieira said his own form for Juve has been "up and down" recently, but he declared himself "100 per cent fit" following a succession of minor injuries that have slowed his progress since a commanding start to his career with the Bianconeri. Vieira was not so much older than Fabregas when he arrived at Arsenal in 1996. With Vieira the driving force in midfield, Arsenal won the double in 1998 and 2002 and the French international looks back on his time in London with pride. "When you spend nine years anywhere, when you win so much and do so well – I think in the last nine years we were maybe the best team in the history of Arsenal football club and I was part of it - of course you are proud, and that's it really."
Not according to Arsène Wenger, who coaxed the best out of a dispirited Vieira after he had lost his way at AC Milan. It would be difficult, Wenger suggested, to keep emotions at bay entirely. "When you come back, you always want to be at the top of your game," the Arsenal manager had said earlier in the day. "Emotionally it's not always so easy." As the press filed out, they passed a photo by the door of Wenger and Vieira holding aloft the 2004 Premiership trophy. The ties run deep. Batting away the questions had not proved a challenge, maintaining that focus when Vieira is welcomed 'home' by the Highbury faithful may well be.