Tomorrow night, Juan Sebastian Veron will lead out Estudiantes de La Plata in the Copa Libertadores Final, the first such occasion for the club since 1971. Despite losing to Nacional in that Final, the legacy of Estudiantes lives on through the three Copa Libertadores they won from 1968-1970 after becoming the first Argentine club outside of Buenos Aires to win the Primera in 1967.
Juan Roman Veron, Seba’s father, was a key man for those Estudiantes teams that also won the 1968 Intercontinental Cup in 1968 over Manchester United, a team the younger Veron went on to play for during the early 2000’s. Carrying on the legacy is something dear to Seba’s heart, not only for what it would mean to him personally or to a possible trip to the world cup next summer, but to the club he supported as a child: “I would give everything I’ve won to be Libertadores Cup champion. That is the ultimate because I grew up here,” Veron junior said. That is quite a statement from a man who has won an English Premier League, two Serie A’s, and a UEFA Cup amongst other trophies in Europe
Seba’s love affair for Estudiantes began when he helped them win promotion in 1995, before he left for Buenos Aires based Boca Juniors where he played with a certain Diego Armando Maradona. He then left for Europe and played for Sampdoria, Parma, and Lazio in Italy before setting an English football record with his move to Manchester United in 2001. Although things started well at Old Trafford, his play declined and along with a disastrous 2002 World Cup group stage exit with Argentina, many pundits and fans felt Veron’s best was behind him. An unsuccessful spell at Chelsea and a subsequent loan stint at Inter seemed to verify such assumptions. In 2006, “La Brujita” was loaned back to his boy hood club despite interest from his other former club Boca and River Plate. In his first season back in La Plata, Veron captained Estudiantes to the 2006 Aperatura crown after a dramatic playoff victory over Boca
Veron seems to have been reinvented at Estudiantes which led to a recall to the Argentine team for 2007 Copa America. Although members of the press disagreed with Veron’s inclusion, and some fans have greeted him with boos and whistles in recent World Cup qualifiers, it seems as though a win in Belo Horizonte on Wednesday will all but secure Seba’s ticket to South Africa next summer, if Argentina make it.
Since his return from Europe, Veron has been handed the armband under each manager, from former National Team colleague Diego Simeone to Alejandro Sabella, the current boss. Each manager has also built his team around the former Manchester United star with his ability to control the game with his passing range and tactical intelligence picked up through many seasons playing for some of the game’s best managers in Europe. Veron’s vision and long passing has allowed him to create space and opportunities for strikers Gate Fernandez and Mauro Boselli. In the December, Veron helped take Estudiantes to the Copa Sudamerica Final, where they lost in extra time to Internacional, also of Brazil. Another heartbreaking defeat to a Brazilian side would be a crushing blow to a team that has improved so much since its struggles during the group stage.
For Veron, it is a chance to bring continental glory to a team not considered a “giant” of the Argentine game for the fourth time. Joining Veron in the side is fellow Argentina international Mariano Andujar, Maradona’s number one goalkeeper at the moment, who has been in fantastic form this term. Veron had a searing free kick saved by Fabio in the first leg, but he will feel confident heading to Brazil. Estudiantes beat the Brazilian 4-0 earlier in the tournament, although it is worth noting that due to poor travel arrangements Cruzeiro had almost no time to warm up. The 0-0 draw in La Plata saw Estudiantes create chances early, but as the Brazilians kicked the Argentines (Veron himself was left with a gash on his head) the tides turned, Cruzeiro ended the game with the upper hand.
While his father’s team’s under Osvaldo Zubeldí were known for violence and cynicla tactics, particularly from those in Europe, this Estudiantes has used the abilities of Veron to play a passing game more pleasing on the eye. Without Veron, much of that strategy is lost, as seen in the second leg of the semifinals when Veron was out injured. With him, Estudiantes can achieve the Cup that has eluded them for 39, as well as showing those in Manchester, Chelsea, and Buenos Aires, that Juan Sebastian Veron is not finished.