The Arsenal great Tony Adams was once labelled by opposition fans as a donkey. Here, PAT ROWHAN remembers ‘the raging Shetland pony’ who galloped free across the turf of Highbury.
1998 was a heady time for Gooners; our new manager Arsene Wenger had just started to implement his free flowing football at Highbury with breath-taking results. But we all knew it was propped up by our famous back five – a Georgie Graham legacy.
Therefore, Wenger made himself busy making acquisitions that would support this awesome but ageing defence. Enter Gilles Grimandi, Remi Garde and Nelson Vivas, like continental Oompa Loompas if you will. Strangely, he bought players as cover that were the polar opposite of our defenders; instead of stature, strength and disciplined defensive capabilities he went for something a little different.
They were all technically competent but not very good at anything else, bless ‘em. And the one that stood out for me was the raging Shetland pony, Nelson Vivas. Wenger managed to prise him away from Swiss ‘giants’ FC Lugano after he’d only played ten games for them. The beginnings of the shrewd businessman in the transfer market that Arsenal fans know and love today…
The first time I saw Vivas was when he came on as a substitute at Highbury in his first home game. I kept my eye on him in anticipation as he was a new signing, and he didn’t let me down. If my memory is correct, he ran around quite a bit in a small area no bigger than 10ft by 10ft, then he chased down an opponent who was in possession of the ball, pulled his shirt then kicked him up the arse and got booked. Great I thought, at least he’s up for it but this never transpired as simply a case of early exuberance from a new player trying to impress, he always played like this!
His modus operandi was “Kill Nelson, kill!”
Technically he was very good, he had great control and passing range and he was nippy, but he couldn’t tackle (unless you categorise grappling and kicking as tackling, that is).
He played 69 games for Arsenal, 40 coming from the bench, but had a very respectable 39 caps for Argentina. However, one of those caps was as a full back the night Michael Owen slayed them in France before his wonder goal.
I tried to look him up on YouTube to see if there was any footage of him, particularly for Arsenal, to jog my memory – but absolutely nothing. All that exists are videos of him playing for Argentina where he loses his rag against Brazil and winds back his haymaker and then realises where he is just as he’s about to pummel Rivaldo’s face, and a recent clip of him back home in Argentina punching the crap out of a fan and consequently getting the sack as manager of Quilmes.
Anyway, if you’re after enthusiasm and aggression (so much aggression) then Vivas was your man. Although he was a terrible footballer, I couldn’t help but warm to him, I even named the house I lived at in my student days after him; it was called Nelson House but I added Vivas to any correspondence. His natural vivacity for life and that carefree ability to lose his temper and kick or punch anyone at any time gave short men everywhere hope.
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