Each week on Football FanCast we will be celebrating those special breed who lit up the Premier League with their unique brand of utter genius. This time out we pay homage to a world class flop who occasionally thrilled.
Sir Alex Ferguson had form for tearing a strip off the assembled press but this was something else entirely. Usually his confrontations had a sneering quality that was more often than not laced with heavy sarcasm. Usually too – for all of the fiery Scot’s well established reputation for bullying journalists – there was a savvy, cock-sure urbanity that accompanied the aggression.
This though, this very much had the ring of a man who had lost the argument and in pure frustration was lashing out.
“He’s a f***ing great player and you are all f***ing idiots.”
Seriously, can you imagine Guardiola or Klopp saying such a thing.
The year is 2002 and the great player in question is Juan Sebastian Veron who by common consensus had just endured an underwhelming inaugural season in the English top flight. Ten months prior Ferguson had splashed out a club transfer record on the then 26-year-old and everybody agreed that the securing of his services made an already formidable Manchester United even stronger.
Veron was Argentina’s go-to man to tick them over and furthermore was a world class talent in his prime. The season before the 6ft 1 tall ‘Little Witch’ (so nicknamed because his father was also a professional whose ingenuity on the Estudiantes wing earned him a supernatural moniker) had orchestrated a treble-winning campaign for Lazio that included a first scudetto for a quarter of a century.
Simply put, Veron – a former team-mate of Maradona at Boca – was arguably the finest midfielder around at the time who excelled at every element of his craft and accomplished it all with a good deal of swagger and panache. Adding him to a central casting that already contained Beckham, Scholes, Keane and Giggs was the very definition of gilding the lily.
So nobody questioned the signing, despite the hefty fee of £28.1m; that came later when Veron began to notably struggle after a promising start. A persistent Achilles injury hardly helped matters either as United ended the season without any silverware.
With the benefit of time we can look back now and determine for certain that Juan Sebastian Veron’s spell on our shores was a thoroughly disappointing one and that includes too his subsequent move to Chelsea that saw him loaned out soon after to Inter, then Estudiantes.
In his two years at Old Trafford he failed to make a significant impact. At the Bridge he made precisely seven appearances.
So why then, you may wonder has he been selected here for our Slice of Genius series? It’s because it was not only the sceptical journalists who were right back in 2002; right to query the schemer’s aptitude and influence. Ferguson also had a damn fine point even if made all-too-crudely. Veron was a “f****** great player”.
More so we are not talking here about a Radamel Falcao or Andy van der Meyde, exquisite stars who saw their ability vanish on arrival to such an extreme that you suspected an imposter had inhabited their boots. On occasion Veron sparkled; he shone. It was just infrequently that’s all.
When he did though we saw the sumptuous passing range and marvelled at his poise that had him glide past opponents. His vision was a treat for the eyes. Veron in possession in a modicum of space equated to a gifted individual with a ball at his feet but the pace of the Premier League was ultimately his undoing. Veron in possession in a modicum of space with Giggs and Van Nistelrooy running off him led to some wonderfully imaginative and perfectly executed through-balls.
Watch the video below to see the most insane overhead kick you will see this week…
It’s one of his rare goals though that we’re focusing on here and aptly it occurred in the Champions League, a tournament which he always reserved his best performances for. There his continental manner was at home. There he was integral, not a luxury.
The date is October 1st 2002 and United are hosting Olympiacos in a group stage game. Having suffered a slow start to their league campaign (though they would eventually win their eighth title that spring) this was the Reds’ chance to take their frustrations out on a Greek outfit whose main objective was to avoid a heavy defeat.
That aim looked unlikely to be realised when Ryan Giggs put the home side ahead after 19 minutes and then seven minutes later Veron stretched the lead further. The manner in which he did so stays in the memory.
It began with a one-two with Beckham that split the Olympiacos defence wide open. The folically-challenged playmaker showed an uncharacteristic burst of pace to receive the return pass and when he did he found himself with only the goalkeeper Eleftheropoulos to beat. The Greece international had anticipated the move however and by advancing to the edge of the box had negated anything conventional.
For a split-second there was a stand-off, between midfielder and stopper and with the ball rolling and the last man on Veron’s shoulder it demanded instant action. So Veron instantly acted.
His lob, chip, dink; whatever you choose to call it was enacted from close range with minimal back-lift. His boot slid under the ball and lofted it with the care of a man placing his sick pet onto a vet’s table. It was loving. It was utterly sublime. Eleftheropoulos could only twist his head, rooted to the spot and watch gravity do its work.