Juan Sebastian Veron bleeds red and white but can his playing return help Estudiantes?
The prospect of a near 42-year-old player coming out of retirement after nearly three years away would perhaps not excite many clubs’ supporters but the relationship between Juan Sebastian Veron and Estudiantes is anything but ordinary.
Few players could claim to have the life-long bond that La Brujita has in La Plata but with a playing return imminent, where does the club legend fit into Nelson Vivas’ plans?
Organisers of preseason tournament, The Florida Cup were perhaps a little disappointed that Sunday’s clash with Bayer Leverkusen didn’t mark the third coming of Veron after the veteran was deemed not quite ready for action but they may only need to wait one week with Estudiantes’ friendly against Bahia now penciled in.
— Estudiantes de La Plata (@EdelpOficial) January 8, 2017
Either way, anticipation is enormous and it has steadily been growing since the former South American footballer of the year brushed off his boots to play for amateur club Estrella de Berisso in La Plata, and then pledged to make a full return should 65% of the executive boxes at Estudiantes’ new stadium be sold. With such a carrot dangling, the target was swiftly met and Veron began training with Vivas and the first team, yet there was still no official word.
It had become the worst kept secret but when ‘President Veron’ put pen to paper on an 18-month contract to assume the role of ‘midfield general Veron’ again, it was significant news around the world.
BBC Sport – Juan Sebastian Veron, 41, comes out of retirement & signs deal with Estudiantes https://t.co/jJPxo4FkZ9
— Utd Kids Wife ♔ (@UtdKidsWife) December 28, 2016
Followers of the Premier League may seek to downplay Veron’s achievements based on an underwhelming two years with Manchester United, having been the most expensive signing in English football at the time, and later a disappointing, injury stricken spell with Chelsea but as Sir Alex Ferguson said, “Veron is a f**king great player, and you’re all f**king idiots.”
A Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup double with Parma, a Serie A and Coppa Italia double with Lazio the following year, at this time Veron was regarded as one of the finest midfielders in the world and it was with full justification that Sir Alex Ferguson wanted him so badly at Old Trafford.
However, it is in La Plata, where Veron has made the greatest impact and while for many aging veterans looking to recapture past glories their own ego is the motivating factor, La Brujita’s passion for Estudiantes far outweighs that.
This is a love affair almost from birth. Veron’s father, Juan Ramon, was the original Bruja and was an icon at the club during the 1960s, El Pincha’s greatest era – an era that yielded three consecutive Copa Libertadores titles but also later indoctrinated the young Juan Sebastian.
“The love I feel for the club has developed over time, there’s no doubt that the fact that my father played for Estudiantes left me with few alternatives,” Veron explained.
“It’s a feeling that comes partly from him, and the history of those years, and also from spending so much time at the club. I trained at the club from the age of five, during the holidays I went to summer camp there, I used to go to the stadium – I practically lived there.”
Veron debuted in 1994 and helped the club regain its status back in the top flight, winning the Nacional B but it was when the experienced leader returned from Europe in 2006 that he was able to establish himself among the club greats in his own right. La Brujita had taken a huge paycut to come home at the age of 31 and his midfield generalship led El Pincha to the Apertura title, a first national championship since 1983.
Given Veron senior’s affiliation with South America’s biggest prize, the Copa Libertadores, it was only natural that his son coveted this above anything else. In 2009, Juan Sebastian’s dream was achieved as Estudiantes defeated Cruzeiro for a fourth title, and for many that would be the defining moment for which to bow out.
However, Veron’s involvement was just beginning. Already a big investor in the club, with his wages from Europe, La Brujita had campaigned for Estudiantes’ new stadium and so it was the least surprising election result in history when the iconic midfielder hung up his boots and was named club president.
Juan Sebastien Veron.
Now Chairman and player of Estudiantes in Argentina.
What were your best memories of such a fine player? pic.twitter.com/vJVxtJ94EX
— Football Super Tips (@FootySuperTips) December 30, 2016
Now with the club back in the Copa Libertadores, the 42-year-old (he will be once the tournament starts) is back but is this about Veron? No, it’s about the club and the genuine feeling that even at his advanced age, the midfielder can offer Nelson Vivas something.
The dynamic between the pair will of course be odd. On the one hand as club president, Veron is Vivas’ boss but as a member of the playing squad, also his subordinate. Were this a vanity project for Veron, a conflict could arise but the president is certain that this will not be the case and Vivas can do as he sees fit.
So, where does Vivas see Veron playing? “I see him playing behind the forward in our 4-2-3-1, dropping back to the midfield line and lending his experience,” explained the former Arsenal defender.
With the added strain of a Copa Libertadores campaign, Veron will provide cover, experience and leadership to Estudiantes’ small yet talented squad. Never a player with a great deal of pace, Veron will conserve energy far more than he did in peak condition and rely on the youthful exuberance of the likes of Santiago Ascacibar to cover the more defensive aspect.
However, a fine passer of the ball with astute tactical knowledge, Veron may well still be able to fulfill a role in Vivas’ vision.
If indeed the president is unable to do that and time has indeed caught up with him, then it is unlikely anyone will need to tell him. Estudiantes will always come first but for every football supporter, let’s hope there is still just a little bit of magic left.