Words: Martin Mazur, Sam Rowe, Alex Holiga, Andy Greeves, Richard Edwards
Juan Sebastian Veron (Lazio to Manchester United, 2001)
Fee: £28.1m (in today’s money: £51.4m)
Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t too pleased when, just 10 months after forking out a Premier League record £28.1m for Juan Sebastian Veron, it was suggested he was a transfer flop. “He’s a f**king great player,” the Scot growled as he stormed out of his press conference. “And you’re all f**king idiots.”
Still, there was no escaping the fact that, for all his past success in Italy and with the Argentine national team, Veron was struggling to live up to the billing at Old Trafford. So why didn’t it work out?
“I don’t make excuses,” Veron tells FFT of his struggles in English football. “It was a new thing for me, even if I’ve always faced change with ease. My family was happy, I was happy.
“The real change was the physical aspect. I regard fitness training as a very important thing. I moved from a country with intense pre-season training to another where football matches are the only way they train. In England they play the whole year: Christmas, New Year, non-stop.
“The first six months I coped with it well – really well. But after December, it was very difficult for me to keep up. I would suffer from the lack of a fitness base, I wouldn’t be able to last the whole game, and I would pick up injuries.”
Still, there were some highlights. Veron scored the crucial fourth goal in United’s memorable 5-3 comeback at Tottenham in September 2001, and was also imperious during the early stages of the Red Devils’ Champions League campaign of 2002/03, before injuries struck again.
He also netted the goal that Ferguson later described as the best he’d ever seen (“It was a volleyed rabona in the air and it went directly into the top corner”). Sadly, it was only in a training session during a tour of the United States.
Things may not have gone to plan, but anyone who thought that Veron was the archetypal South American fancy dan desperate to get away from rainy Manchester would be dead wrong. The midfielder moved south to the newly monied Chelsea in summer 2003, but just couldn’t settle in London.
“Looking back, I didn’t make the right choice,” he admits. “I should have stayed in Manchester. My wife left Manchester in tears. We were used to moving cities and I’d never seen her crying because of a move. I had talked to Ferguson and he had told me that he couldn’t guarantee my spot in the team; that I had to earn it. And it was logical. I didn’t think it through.”
Ferguson hinted at one other reason for the Argentine’s struggles at United in his 2014 autobiography. “He didn’t speak the language,” the Scot wrote. “He wasn’t antisocial; he just wasn’t a communicator. I’d come in for work: ‘Morning, Seba’. ‘Morning, Mister’. And that was it. You couldn’t drag anything from him.”
Perhaps he just didn’t like all the swearing.
NEXT: “These days, if you score nine goals in the Premier League that’s seen as not too bad…”