Juan Sebastian Veron may not have lived up to expectations at Manchester United – but he was far from the disastrous flop that he is often painted as.
Veron joined United in a £28.1million deal from Lazio in 2001, becoming the most expensive player in British football history at the time.
Regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world, the Argentine’s arrival in Manchester was understandably met with considerable excitement.
United had just won their third straight Premier League title and Veron was brought in to help them climb back to the summit of the European game.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s beloved 4-4-2 formation had brought so much success to the club, but the manager wanted to switch to a 4-5-1 system.
Veron hit the ground running with four goals in his first eight games and even won the Premier League Player of the Month award for September.
With the ball at his feet, he was a joy to watch; an incredible passing range combined with excellent awareness suggested he would flourish in the early stages of his career in Manchester.
“I was suspended for one of Veron’s first game against Everton and sat in the stands,” Nicky Butt told United We Stand in 2012. “He was unbelievable, so good that I never thought that I’d play for United again.”
Goal Of The Day: Juan Sebastian Veron: Manchester Vs Everton: Premier League: Old Trafford 08/9/2001: Attendance 67,534: #MUFC #GoalOfTheDay #JuanSebastianVeron #MUNEVE #UnitedVsEverton #PremierLeague #OldTrafford #TheatreOfDreams #ManchesterUnited #ManUnited #MU #ManUtd #Veron pic.twitter.com/CtTde4AtzX
— Benjamin Brazil (@bennymufc) March 29, 2020
After an encouraging start, Veron’s form tailed off as the frantic pace of English football began to take its toll on his need for time and space in possession.
The midfielder still showed what he was capable of in fleeting spells, lighting up Old Trafford with his creative brilliance and technical skills.
Veron could complete defence-splitting passes that others would not even see, never mind dare to attempt.
He seemed to reserve his best performances for the Champions League, where the slower tempo of the European game definitely suited his style of play.
It’s the 18th anniversary of this Juan Veron assist.
What a fucking ball, son.pic.twitter.com/RXBzvSfHFm
— A Funny Old Game (@sid_lambert) April 12, 2020
But Veron continued to struggle in domestic competitions, and his poor displays came scrutiny from the British press.
Ferguson took offence at people questioning Veron’s ability and defended his player in a heated press conference in May 2002, telling journalists: “On you go. I’m no fucking talking to you. He’s a fucking great player. Yous are fucking idiots.”
Ferguson was right. But despite the player’s obvious talents, he simply didn’t fit in at United.
The midfield quartet of David Beckham, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs had been the foundation of so much success at Old Trafford. Veron’s arrival unbalanced the team as United suddenly had too many cooks in the kitchen.
Ferguson seemed desperate to fix a midfield that was never really broken and it soon became clear that Veron was just an unnecessary luxury.
“Juan Sebastian Veron was an amazing player. In my opinion, it didn’t happen for him, because I think we had the best midfield English football has ever produced, and I think will ever produce,” Gary Neville told Sky Sports in April 2020.
“Giggs, Keane, Scholes, Becks. I think these four players are the best Manchester United have ever had. They were on another planet.
“The midfield four played in what I would call a methodical way. They played a disciplined role, and it was a classic 4-4-2. The way Veron played, coming out of Italy, he moved into different positions and was fluid, trying to get the ball from the left-back.
“He was almost the first player who broke the code. The code had to break at some point. Veron came in with that interchanging mindset, but into a team that was set into its patterns.
“It was nothing to do with him as a player or individual, because he was brilliant.”
After a turbulent debut season, Veron showed signs of improvement in his second season and occasionally supplied a moment of genius.
There were delightful flicks, passes and goals that befitted his reputation; his elegantly weighted assist for Beckham against Birmingham City a particular highlight.
It’s Juan Veron’s birthday today. You remember him.
Loved a Hollywood pass.pic.twitter.com/fLHoinLjJg
— A Funny Old Game (@sid_lambert) March 9, 2020
The midfielder attracted plaudits for his accomplished displays in Europe but still couldn’t recapture that form in the Premier League, ultimately finding himself on the periphery as United won the league title in 2002-03 as he struggled for consistency.
“If I had one frustration it was that I had highs and lows every season. I was never at a high level throughout the whole season,” Veron told the Manchester Evening News in 2016.
Ferguson eventually reverted back to the tried and tested 4-4-2 formation, no longer able to accommodate Veron in his team.
The manager acknowledged his mistake and decided to cut his losses with the player, selling Veron to Chelsea for £15million in 2003.
His stint at Old Trafford is ultimately regarded as a failed experiment, often ignoring some of the extenuating circumstances.
Tactical trends from across Europe began to influence the English game following Veron’s departure. Had he arrived a few years later, we may now be looking back on his time at Old Trafford very differently.
Indeed, for the first time in his career, Veron had got his timing all wrong.
By Nathan Egerton