Mentioning the name Juan Sebastián Verón will get you plenty of different responses. To some, he is one of the biggest flops of the Premier League era, failing to deliver consistently for both Manchester United and Chelsea, making him a big money misfit. However, if you mention his name in Italy or Argentina you’ll likely get glowing reviews of a player who could do everything a midfielder needs to and who had the passing ability and vision very few could match. Juan Sebastián Verón will always divide opinion, but the truth is he is one of the best midfielders the Serie A has seen.
“We welcome him because he is a marvellous player, and one who brings just what we need to the team.
What we have done is bring in a really top player, one of the best players in the world. He is world class – a fantastic footballer.
He’s a marvellous player and Juan will bring a personality to the team which I feel we need at this moment. I feel we need a challenge.”
When reading the above quotes, it’s easy to understand how pleased Sir Alex Ferguson was upon signing Verón from SS Lazio back in 2001. The Argentine midfielder had shown over the previous six season his undeniable quality in the Serie A, first at Sampdoria and Parma and then at Lazio. The fee was big, with Ferguson parting with a cool £28.1 million to bring Verón to Manchester. Ferguson’s statement shows in which regard the highly sought-after midfielder was held.
Upon joining United, Verón joined an already fantastic midfield which had the possibility to include players like Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and David Beckham in the central midfield positions. Verón’s arrival highlighted Ferguson’s quest for more control in his team. After being found out twice in the Champions League after winning it in 1999, Ferguson was desperate for his United to be as controlled and composed like the Real Madrid team that knocked United out in 2000, for example. With Verón, Keane and Scholes in midfield this was the way Ferguson wanted to rectify the lack of control. United did reach the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001/02, with Verón starting both semis in midfield, but were knocked out by Bayer Leverkusen on away goals. The following year United were again knocked out by Real Madrid, this time in the quarter-finals. So if Verón was signed to win the Champions League, then it was a failure. However, while injuries ruined some of his campaign, Verón scored four goals in the group stage of that seasons Champions League, and scored a crucial goal against Arsenal on United’s march towards the Premier League title. United fans will never forget his 4-3 goal away at Tottenham in 2001 when United came from 3-0 down to win 5-3.
In total Verón played 82 times for United, scoring 11 goals and winning the 2002/03 Premier League title before being sold to Chelsea. While his time in Manchester wasn’t a success, it wasn’t as big a failure as has been made out either, and Verón obviously left his mark on the likes of Scholes, who took over Veróns role when he left, and the young Darren Fletcher who was breaking through at the time.
“He is a fucking great player. And you’re all fucking idiots.”
Ferguson after journalists criticized Verón’s form in May 2002.
Verón started his career at his hometown club, Estudiantes La Plata, where his father had played. His father, Juan Ramón Verón, had also represented Argentina, so it’s safe to say Juan Sebastian had football in his blood. After breaking into Estudiantes first team and shining for them over a couple of seasons he joined Boca Juniors, to many the biggest club in Argentina. Verón’s stint at La Bombonera was short lived though, as Sampdoria brought the 21-year-old midfielder to Italy in 1996. Although Sampdoria is the only European club he didn’t win a trophy with, he enjoyed two successful seasons at Stadio Luigi Ferrari as the Genovese club provided a perfect stepping stone to bigger clubs. In the summer of 1998, Parma, one of Italy’s giants at this time, bought Verón for £15 million after seeing the midfielder impress for Argentina at the World Cup.
Verón only stayed one season at the Ennio Tardini, but was instrumental in guiding the club to a Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup double. In total he played 42 matches and scored four goals for Parma. After the double success at Parma, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Lazio saw the need to improve an already fantastic selection of midfielders with Verón’s playmaking abilities. Eriksson’s side already boasted midfielders such as Dejan Stankovic, Pavel Nedved and Verón’s compatriots Diego Simeone and Matias Almeyda. The squad also included top class players like the elegant defender Alessandro Nesta, the trequartista-genius Roberto Mancini, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Attilio Lombardo, current Lazio manager Simone Inzaghi, Alen Boksic and Chilean goal-machine Marcelo Salas. The addition of Verón proved the final piece of the jigsaw as Lazio enjoyed their best ever season in 1999/00 and completed an unprecedented domestic double, winning both the Serie A and the Coppa Italia. They also beat Sir Alex Ferguson’s treble winners in the UEFA Super Cup at the start of the campaign to complete a treble of trophies. Verón was a key player for Lazio, making 47 appearances in all competitions and scoring 10 goals. The following season, Verón added the Supercoppa Italiana to his growing trophy collection before joining Manchester United at the end of the season.
Verón up against his fellow Argentine, Juan Román Riquelme.
After leaving Chelsea, Verón played at his fourth Italian club, Inter, for two seasons. At Inter, Verón won a further two Coppa Italia trophies and a Supercoppa before also being awarded the 2005/06 Serie A title when Juventus had the Scudetto removed following their involvement in the Calciopoli scandal. Verón returned home to Estudiantes, where he would play for another seven years before retiring in 2014. With Estudiantes, Verón won the most important title of his career, the Copa Libertadores. Between 1968 and 1970, Verón’s father had won the Copa Libertadores three times with Estudiantes and in 2009 his son had the chance after leading his team to the final. Estudiantes beat Cruzeiro 2-1 on aggregate in the final to clinch the trophy which would serve as the happiest moment of Verón’s career.
“I would trade everything I’ve won for this title.”
Juan Sebastián Verón prior to the Copa Libertadores final in 2009.
On international level, Verón was an almost ever-present player for Argentina from 1996-2010. He appeared at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups but was omitted from the final squad for the 2006 finals. Under Diego Maradona, however, Verón was recalled for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In total he won 73 caps for Argentina, scoring 9 goals.
His trophy cabinet is impressive, but more impressive was his style of play. A complete midfielder, Verón could do everything. He had a powerful shot, as evidenced by some thundering strikes and was physically very strong and powerful. As you’d expect from an Argentinian centre midfield player he was also tenacious, hard-working and an influential leader. Above all though was his technical ability, his extraordinary vision and stunning range of passing. His passing ability is something young midfielders should study and try to be inspired of because he had qualities rarely seen. One player who seemingly picked up a lot from Verón is Paul Scholes, who developed into a similar player as he grew older and changed from his more attacking position to a more deeper, controlled role.
If still active and in his prime today, Verón would surely be as highly spoken of as current midfield metronomes such as Andrea Pirlo and Xavi has in recent years. He would have slotted in perfectly in all of Europe’s big clubs, and although successful in his career, one cannot help but wonder if he was born ten years too early.
The memories live on and the presence of Youtube makes sure Juan Sebastián Verón lives on forever and continues to inspire young footballers to play like the pass master from La Plata.