Vision, accuracy, power; three words that can be used to describe Juan Sebastián Verón’s style of play. The Argentine midfielder was at one time regarded as one of Europe’s finest midfielders in the late 90s/early 2000s. With the ability he displayed in the 1998 World Cup and in Serie A, it was only a matter of time before he made a big money move. Sir Alex Ferguson pounced and broke the British transfer record, signing the playmaker for £24.3 million in 2001.
Potent and skilful, Verón was a player who glided around the pitch thanks to his situational awareness and ability to read the game. He was a player capable of understanding his teammates’ runs, where to move and when to pass the ball. With the ball at his feet, he was a joy to watch, a crisp first touch combined with a great passing range, it looked like he would flourish in the early stages of his career in Manchester.
Many football fans around the world have always wondered why such a brilliant player struggled to thrive in the English game. The common consensus is that the tempo of English football was just too high for the Argentine to handle and, partly, this is true.
Verón was accustomed to playing in Italy and in his home country, where they had a break midway through the season. The Italian league was also known particularly for its slow tempo, free of any sort of high pressing and honouring the Catenaccio traditions. This gave Verón time to think, which made him a threat to every team in Italy.
But there’s more to it than that. It wasn’t just because of the high-tempo football played in England. There was one additional matter which ultimately labelled his career in England as a failure. His worst enemy was the intensity of preseason versus the overall fixture congestion in the Premier League. Fatigue was a nightmare for him. His body couldn’t handle playing so many games, featuring in two domestic cups, the Champions League and the league itself, with no break during the Christmas period.
Nevertheless, Sir Alex Ferguson and United’s captain Roy Keane defended his performances while he was at Old Trafford, as his quality was clear to everyone. Ferguson snapped at reporters who questioned his ability, “I’m not talking to you. He’s a f******g great player. Yous are f******g idiots.”
His best performances often came in the Champions League, where the tempo was slower and he had more time to think on the ball. This also meant Verón didn’t need to run as much, which allowed him to stay on the pitch for the full game, something he struggled to do domestically. As if it wasn’t enough, Verón’s lack of fitness translated into countless injury problems. After two seasons at Manchester United, Ferguson lost his patience and sold him to Chelsea and recouped some of the transfer back. He also struggled with fitness concerns at Stamford Bridge only playing seven times before returning to the Serie A on loan and then back to Argentina with Estudiantes.
Labelling him, “one of the biggest flops in the Premier League era” might be a bit harsh, but he certainly failed to meet the high expectations from fans and pundits alike. He’s rated as of the worst ever Chelsea players during the Roman Abramovich and that’s saying something!
Italy and Argentina was where he enjoyed the most success, Verón had already conquered the Serie A, having enjoyed success with Parma, Sampdoria and Lazio before joining José Mourinho’s Inter Milan. Sven Goran Erikson also played a key role in Verón’s career and his influence in games while playing in Italy was unquestionable.
Let us also remember that the Italian First Division was considered to be the best football league in the world back in the early 2000’s – and Verón was tearing it apart.
La Brujita has always been a massive fan of Estudiantes de La Plata. He’s currently their Chairman, after spending the last 7 years of his career playing for the Argentinian side. He had also helped them achieve promotion to the First Division during the early stages of his career.
English fans might see him as a flop, but those who had the fortune of watching him play in Italy and in his homeland think differently. Arguably, the second best playmaker Argentina has produced in the last 20 years.