by Jamie Rooney
There aren’t many pre-match warm-ups that bowl you over – routines can be interesting, engaging but never captivating. However a regular pre-match exercise cooked up between David Beckham and Juan Sebastian Veron stands out as a piece of consuming theatre.
With the staple pre-match drills and stretches over, Beckham and Veron would peel off, spaced about half a pitch apart to ping balls at one another. The ball would fly in from around 50 yards, a deft first touch stunning it dead, the second a cushioned set-up, finished with a lash down the laces, whipped straight back from whence it came, all done without the ball ever touching the surface. Repetition of this act would run blemish free ten, twelve, fifteen efforts or more.
Juan Sebastian Veron’s reputation as a football player broadly depends on the country in which the question has been raised; in England Veron is labelled as a very expensive flop, but not many expensive flops have played a pivot role in a Championship winning side, that being Manchester United 2002/03.
For a select minority in England Veron was an absolute delight graced with complexed intelligence, a visionary genius at a level beyond his peers playing around him, blessed with an acute sense of timing for a pass, a tackle or a run.
However, his sense of good timing on the pitch didn’t compliment his timing off it.
When Veron left Lazio for Manchester United he arrived at the right club at, arguably, the wrong time. Ferguson’s midfield at that time would generally line up in a single band of four – Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs, all fantastic talents worthy of a start in what was a typically English formation.
Veron would find himself a part of a central midfield pairing or pushed out wide as part of a four, not a role alien to him but certainly not a tactic which played to his strengths.
At Lazio, Veron was Eriksson’s quarterback before the term became en vogue in the game. But, in 2001, English football culture was different to that in Italy where Veron had built a reputation as one of the world’s best footballers.
Had Veron stayed at Old Trafford a while longer he could have been the deep-lying central midfielder playing in Ferguson’s recent version’s of 4-3-3, 4-5-1 and 4-6-0. The perpetual movement of Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney ahead of him would have enabled La Bruja and his unparalleled vision for a pass to flourish.
However, during the 2002/03 English Premier League, ideas of a five man midfield or three up front were still relatively uncommon occurrences. In a United shirt, Veron’s sagacity was compromised, he was a misfit shoe horned in to an already high quality football team going through their most important period of learning.
Ferguson was conscious his pacey 4-4-2 was open to exploitation in Europe and he needed an alternative tactic he if was to consistently conquer Europe. Carlos Quieroz’s arrival may have help completed the picture of a three man midfield, but the idea was seeded by Juan Sebastian Veron.
In the coming years Veron’s legacy helped enable United to go on and produce, unprecedented undefeated records in Europe, involving consecutive Champions League finals, winning it in 2008. But Veron had parted company with United long before this continued European success.
In the summer of 2003, after winning the Premier League, eclipsing the soon to become Invincibles of Arsenal, Veron moved south to Chelsea, a switch which highlights two very important themes about Veron’s career.
Firstly, Veron is not a player capable of lengthy service, rarely does Veron go in to a third season with the same club and, secondly, he is player who persistently flirts with success.
Veron’s arrival at Chelsea coincided with what would become their most glorious period, the Mourinho years. In alternative ways the same theme of success can be linked with his spells at Sampdoria, Parma, Lazio and Inter.
In terms of collective transfer fees, Veron is the third most expensive player of all time, but now he is back in his home country plying his trade at boyhood club Estudiantes de La Plata, the team where it all began for Veron more than fifteen years ago.
With Estudiantes Veron has completed three seasons, leading them to an unexpected Libertadores triumph in the same year Manchester United were defeated by Barcelona in the Champions League final. Veron has also been honoured with the South American footballer of the year award in both 2008 and 2009.
Juan Sebastian Veron is a great footballer and, for the select minority in England who vehemently defend him, he has the statistics to help reinforce this view. However, in the grand scheme of things who cares whether he’s liked? For those who have seen him play and understood his complexities, the memory of Juan Sebastian Veron will remain forever.