There was palpable excitement around Old Trafford when Manchester United signed Juan Sebastian Veron from Lazio in the summer of 2001.
The Argentine was joining a club who won the last three Premier League titles and the Champions League two years back. There were not a scarcity of medals in the dressing room the playmaker was walking into.
But the word is everyone stopped when Juan Sebastian Veron made his way into the training pitch on his first day at the club.
He won the Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Super Cup at Lazio. Veron was considered as one of the best in the world and his reputation entered the room before he did.
Sir Alex Ferguson smashed the British transfer record to snare the Argentine away from the Serie A giants in 2001.
To a young Manchester United fan, Juan Sebastian Veron symbolises a £28.1m flop but when it comes to the story of La Brujita, the Little Witch, at Old Trafford, the good times are often forgotten.
Juan Sebastian Veron was at the right club at the wrong time
Juan Sebastian Veron joined a Manchester United side who were teeming with honours and medals. Their domination had no end in sight but Sir Alex Ferguson was already preparing for the future.
The Scottish manager was trying to reshape his team and tactics to become more successful in Europe. His team were a straight forward 4-4-2 with possibly a generational midfield consisting of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in the middle and Ryan Giggs and David Beckham on the wings.
Breaking into the midfield would have taken some task and Juan Sebastian Veron’s failure was a testament to that.
The Argentine was neither a Keane nor a Scholes but a bit of both. His signing was the first indication of Ferguson’s desire to reshape his tactics to suit a more European style and it is not a coincidence, some of Veron’s best games came in the Champions League. But Ferguson and his team were still not ready yet to move on from 4-4-2.
Juan Sebastian Veron was a couple of years early at Manchester United. Just imagine what Michael Carrick did to Ferguson’s side when he joined the club 2006.
He was also neither Scholes nor Keane but he was the conductor on which Ferguson built a Champions League-winning side. Veron was Carrick but a bit better than the Englishman.
The Argentine had his moments in the Manchester United shirt and what moments! It is easy to understand why Sir Alex Ferguson, for at least a year, was desperate to make his signing work.
Veron and those moments in a Manchester United shirt
Juan Sebastian Veron’s time at Manchester United are often painted with a broad brush but there were occasions, to quote Sir Alex Ferguson, Veron “would take you to the heavens” with his vision, passing and the enthralling beauty of his football.
Ferguson reminisced about one of those occasions in a game against Birmingham City in his autobiography and wrote:
“He hit a pass for Beckham with the outside of his foot, and no back-lift, and it bent away round the defence. Beckham ran on to it and lobbed the goalkeeper. In moments, he might be sublime.”
These are the words of a manager who won almost everything that was there to win and managed a footballing dynasty that involved a plethora of brilliant players and yet he talks about a player, who is considered as a flop, almost as if he was in awe of the Argentine’s ability.
Many will remember a strike from current Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in a Champions League tie against Deportivo La Coruna.
Those who can recall that goal will talk about the artistry shown by Juan Sebastian Veron to find the Norwegian with the outside of his right foot. It is the kind of pass one is only likely to see a perfectly simulated game on a PC or a console.
Those moments make it easy to understand why Argentina flags were spotted at Old Trafford when Veron arrived at the club. If it seems too long ago and if one thinks the writer is talking from his red-tinted glasses just hear the players who featured alongside Veron at Manchester United.
Nicky Butt famously quipped to a popular Manchester United fanzine that after training with the Argentine he thought he would never play for the club again. He was that good.
Paul Scholes, one of the greatest midfielders of his generation has conceded that he was excited when Veron joined. And this man had seen some great players come and go at Manchester United.
Ferguson raged at the media to protect Veron when it was clear that the Argentine was not working out. He famously told reporters:
“He [Veron] is a f*****g great player. And you’re all f*****g idiots.”
It was clear that Juan Sebastian Veron was on his way out of Manchester United after two seasons in 2003. But even during the dying embers of his time at the club, he produced one of those wow moments.
The club were in talks with Chelsea to sell him and on the other hand, the Argentine produced a pass so exquisite for Ruud van Nistelrooy’s goal against Juventus in a pre-season friendly that Ferguson mentioned it 10 years later in his autobiography.
That kind of summed it up Juan Sebastian Veron’s time at Manchester United. A flop who produced moments that will last a lifetime in the memories of the Red Devils fans who watched him play.
The naked stats of 11 goals and 11 assists in 82 appearances doesn’t do justice to those memories.