Patrick Vieira celebrates his African identity while criticizing football’s lack of diversity in management

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For many, the name Patrick Vieira brings to mind one of the most dominant midfielders in English Premier League history.

For others, it conjures an image of a player at the heart of a French national side that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.

To the younger generation, he is now one of the up-and-coming modern managers emerging in the Premier League.

But Vieira wants to remind the world that he was born in Senegal and is proud to be African.

“It is always good for people to know that I’m African and for people to remind themselves that I’m born in Africa,” the Crystal Palace manager told CNN Senior Sport Analyst Darren Lewis after being honoured at the Best of Africa awards – a night that honors athletes from the continent.

“It’s part of who I am today,” adds Vieira, who was born in the West African country to a Gabonese father and a Cape Verdean mother, living there until his family moved to France when he was eight.

Vieira went onto play for one of the most diverse French teams in history – les bleus were dubbed Black Blanc Beur (White, Black and Arab) – and a team held up as a positive image of French diversity.

“France was going through a difficult period of racism and winning the World Cup showed the world, and showed the French people who didn’t see it, that France was a multi-cultural country,” he said.

“The diversity of our French and French national team was a success as well as winning the World Cup.”

Patrick Vieira holds aloft the Premier League trophy after the Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City in 2004.

Vieira, like many others, has been frustrated with how little change has taken place at the top levels of football.

The former Arsenal captain is currently the only manager from an ethnic minority in the Premier League and only the 10th Black manager since the competition’s inception in 1992.

Earlier this year, the Szymanski Report, commissioned by the Black Footballers Partnership (BFP), found that only 14% of coaches with the highest coaching qualifications in England are Black, despite 43% of players being Black.

The report was even more critical at an executive level saying that only 1.4% of executive, leadership and ownership positions are held by Black people.

“It is not changing,” reflects Vieira. “And the question is, do they really want to make those changes? This is the real question. And if they said yes, why do you wait to do it because there are people qualified to take responsibility.

“The door is closed and the door is closed because of the color of the skin or because of your religion, or because you are a woman, that has to change.”

The Premier League didn’t respond to CNN’s request for comment, but the English Football Association said that its Football Leadership Diversity Code is focused on “increasing gender and ethnic diversity in leadership, team operations and coaching positions.”

Footballing bodies from across England, including all 20 Premier League clubs, have signed up to the code, according to the FA.

“Our teams – including the FA Board – are increasingly diverse, with 8% of our leadership team, 12% of all employees, 20% of our England Men’s coaching staff, and 4% of our England Women’s coaching staff coming from Black, Asian, Mixed or Other Ethnic backgrounds,” added the FA statement.

In a statement sent to CNN, FIFA said: “The FIFA Council’s appointment of Fatma Samoura as FIFA’s first-ever black, female and African Secretary General at the 66th FIFA Congress, held in May 2016, was a landmark decision.

“This followed ground-breaking amendments to the FIFA Statutes, whereby all confederations must elect at least one female member to the FIFA Council.

“FIFA now has a Council comprising 36 members of different nationalities, including six women, and the FIFA administration includes individuals of 100 nationalities and from diverse backgrounds, 41% of whom are women, which is in line with our equal-opportunity recruitment policy.”

Vieira won the World Cup with France in 1998. He is pictured with Adekanmi Olufade of Togo battling for the ball at the World Cup in 2006.

Despite his frustrations with how slowly things are changing, Viera is aware that his presence on the touchline is making a difference.

“I want to give hope by showing to people that you can succeed if you put your head into it,” he said.

“But of course, we need opportunities, and I hope that more and more young African people/black people will have opportunity to do what they love doing.”

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