Juan Sebastian Veron.
Such a satisfying name to say out loud. Up there with Severiano Ballesteros don’t you think?
The Argentinian - nicknamed ‘The Little Witch’ - arrived at Old Trafford with a heavy weight of expectation on his shoulders after impressing at three Serie A clubs - Sampdoria, Parma and Lazio. He cost United more than £24million, making him the most expensive transfer English football when he signed for Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in 2001.
An imposing midfielder with the ability to thread through a defence-splitting pass or smash home a long-range volley, the bald-headed Veron was an impressive figure. But his stay in Manchester proved to be a huge disappointment, not just for the fans but for Sir Alex Ferguson who continually championed the player in the wake of some less than sparkling performances.
He began his United career brightly with three goals in four games and was also named the Premier League Player of the Month in the second month of the 2001/2002 season. But he was frequently labeled a luxury player, often accused of having a poor work-rate and looking ponderous on the ball. The majority of United fans gave him the benefit of the doubt, hoping they would see the talents he showcased in Serie A more frequently.
Veron seemed to save his best performances for European competition - many arguing that the slower pace of the Champions League suited his style of play.
Injuries didn’t help either. He missed chunks of the season and with United performing well in his absence with the likes of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and David Beckham regular starters, there were question marks over his long-term future. Veron looked even slower alongside such combative, all-action players and the efforts of those around him only served to give his critics more ammunition.
Ferguson - famously reluctantly - allowed Veron to join Chelsea in 2003, newly cashed-up under the auspices of Roman Abramovich.
He cost the Blues £15million which at the time seemed reasonable business for United - even more so when you remember the player only made seven appearances for Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea. You have to remember this was an era when Chelsea, dripping in Abramovich cash, were keen to flex their financial muscles. Signing a player from United was more about making a statement than anything else.
Incoming Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho was clearly not a fan of Veron, sending him out on loan to Inter Milan where he was to stay until 2006, making 49 appearances.
He made a return to Argentina, playing for his boyhood team Estudiantes de la Plata. During his career, Veron had made significant financial contributions to the club, helping to fund upgrades to the club’s training facilities. His most celebrated achievement was helped the side to a Copa Libertadores win in 2009.
Throughout this period, Veron continued to be regularly picked for Argentina, starring at the World Cups of 1998 and 2002 but he was snubbed in 2006. He made a return to the global stage in 2010, recalled by new boss Diego Maradona as they reached the quarter-finals only to be beaten by Germany.
Frequently named in lists of the biggest flops or worst signings, I’m tempted to think Veron would be a revelation in today’s Premier League. His pass selection would be highly prized in today’s market and would surely be afforded more time on the ball than he got used to during a turbulent spell in England.