What ever happened to: Juan Sebastián Verón

Verón leaps over the challange of Robbie Savage.
When Juan Sebastián Verón signed for Manchester United in 2001 for £28.1 million, 80% of English football fans took an immediate dislike to him, all sane fans having a loathing for everything to do with Manchester United.

Verón arrived with a massive reputation, earned mainly in Italian football. After making a handful of appearances for boyhood club Estudiantes de La Plata and Argentine giants Boca Juniors he made his reputation with Sampdoria, Parma and Lazio in Serie A.

The general impression is that Verón was a flop for Manchester United, and that Alex Ferguson never really managed to fit him into the team, but 81 appearances and 8 goals in all competitions (including 27 appearances in the Premier League championship winning team of 2002-03) tell a different story.

Verón came under intense criticism from the press and Manchester United fans, which provoked one of Ferguson's most famous outbursts when he ranted that "he is a fucking great player, and you're all fucking idiots" to assembled journalists at a press conference before chucking them out of the training ground. This rant can be seen in two ways, a passionate manager defending his player against unfair criticism or a bitter red nosed old git exploding with rage when people kept reminding him that he'd spent nearly £30 million on a duffer.

Verón was the captain of Argentina during the 2002 World Cup.
It was during his time at Manchester United that Verón captained Argentina in the 2002 World Cup where "la albiceleste" were beaten by England and knocked out in the first round, Argentina's worst World Cup performance since they failed to qualify in 1970. England fans took double delight in this failure, the delight at England's triumph in one of the nations greatest sporting rivalries and the delight at seeing a Manchester United player fail so spectacularly on the world stage.

In 2003 he was offloaded to Chelsea FC, who had just been given Roman Abramovich's billions to play with. His transfer fee of £15 million represented a £13 million pound loss for Manchester United. This transfer raised his cumulative transfer value to an eye watering £77 million, making him the highest value footballer in the world at the time, only surpassed by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.

The 2003-04 season was a disaster for Verón, he suffered from a number of injuries and as a consequence only made 14 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea, 8 as a substitute. The most notorious of his substitute appearances was the Champions League semi-final 1st leg against Monaco. The game was tied at 1-1 with Chelsea looking the stronger team, then Chelsea manager Claudio "tinkerman" Ranieri decided that this hugely important moment would be the ideal opportunity to try and finally lever Verón into the team, bringing him on as a halftime substitute. The 2nd half started well for Chelsea and things got even better for Chelsea when Claude Makalele threw himself to the ground feigning injury to get Andreas Zikos sent off, which was especially unfair given than Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly had put in a performance truly worthy of a red card.

Verón was an expensive flop for Chelsea.
Things started to fall apart for Chelsea in the 77th minute when 10 man Monaco scored to establish a 2-1 lead with a strike from Fernando Morientes. Then in the 83rd minute Shabani Nonda scored with his first touch to make it 3-1 to the 10 man side. Monaco held on for an unbelievable win and Verón came under intense criticism for his lack of effort and poor distribution, but the bulk of the blame fell on Ranieri. Chelsea could only draw the 2nd leg and experienced the bitter taste of defeat in a Champions League semi-final, something they would get used to over the following few seasons.

Ranieri was sacked at the end of the season and Verón was farmed out on loan to Inter Milan for a couple of seasons and then to Estudiantes de La Plata in Argentina, where he stayed after his Chelsea contract eventually expired. In 2007 Verón was labeled as one of the 50 worst transfers in the history of English football by the Times newspaper.

Verón disappeared off the radar for most English football fans, with coverage of the Argentine Primera División and South American club football in general virtually non-existent in the mainstream British press.

Juan Sebastián Verón playing for Estudiantes de La Plata
in the Club World Championship in 2009.

What Verón has achieved at Estudiantes is remarkable. He chose to return to the club that that his father Juan Ramón Verón played for during the club's glory years in the late 60s and early 70s, that Verón supported as a boy and played for as a teenager. He could have gone for a huge payday playing in the MLS or playing for some obscure middle eastern club like other great players reaching the end of their prime years (Beckham, Henry, Batistuta). Instead he decided to return to Estudiantes for the love of the club. In 2006 he led the club to their first league championship in 23 years and in 2009 he lifted the Copa Libertadores trophy that his father had lifted 3 consecutive times in the club's glory days back in the late 1960s and early 70s. 

Verón's renaissance in South America is highlighted by the fact that he has captained his team to domestic and international glory, won the South American player of the year award in 2008 and 2009, the Argentine footballer of the year in 2006 and 2009 and won a recall to the Argentina squad under Diego Maradona after years of international exile.

Verón's time in England was not a success, he never came close to living up to the £28.1 million price tag and it can be argued that his style of play was never suited to the English game. What cannot be argued is that this failure makes him a bad player. His medal collection says otherwise (2 Italian league, 1 Premier league, 1 Argentine league, 1 Copa Libertadores, 1 UEFA Cup, 1 European Super Cup, 4 Italian cups, 2 Italian super cups).

When Verón joined Manchester United in 2001, as a non-Manchester United fan I was duty bound to take a dislike to the man, but the fact that he has forfeited millions in wages in order to return to the club of his roots and led them back to the glory days of his father's generation make him my favourite ex-Manchester United player without a doubt.

See also

Juan Sebastián Verón article by Marcela Mora y Araujo

Part of the What ever happened to? series.

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