"He's a f**king great player.and you're all f**king idiots."
That was Sir Alex Ferguson's defence of a player who, throughout his career, won South American Footballer of the Year twice, two Scudetti, four Coppa Italia, a UEFA Cup, and a Premier League title.
And yes, he was 100% right.
Said player - it's Juan Sebastian Veron, you know this already - was a 'f**king great player' and any football journalist, pundit, or fan who ever says otherwise is a 'f**king idiot'. But the defence of his talents is/was sadly necessary, and Veron's brilliance will always, no matter how much anyone ever tries (including me), be shrouded by a pretty abysmal time spent in the Premier League with Manchester United and Chelsea.
However, we're not here to talk about that nightmare Premier League stint, we're here to laud Veron, and hail the fact that he was the 17th best player to play in Serie A during the 1990s. So let's just get that career lull out of the way quickly before we talk about just how good Veron was at Sampdoria, Parma and Lazio:
Right.ahem.Veron was crap at Man Utd and Chelsea.
Now we can move onto the Argentine's first stint in Italy - a time which Veron rightfully says 'defined' his career.
Snapped up by perennial shagger and fellow English football flop Sven-Goran Eriksson following a successful career infancy at Estudiantes and Boca Juniors, the midfielder joined Sampdoria in 1996. And despite it being a first venture out of Argentina for the then 21-year-old, Veron would make an instant impact at Samp, helping them secure unlikely qualification for European football and quickly becoming one of the best players in the undisputed best league in the world because, as big Sven attests, the midfielder was a f**king great player.
“Technically, he had everything. The vision…he could put passes 40 metres, 50 metres, either side. Assists, goals; a clever, clever, clever football player.”
Indeed, it would be Eriksson who'd get the very best out of Veron on the peninsula by, quite simply, giving him a tactics-free role in which he could do whatever he wanted on a football pitch, but even after the shagger had left for Lazio following Veron's first season at Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris, the midfielder continued to thrive. So much so that, despite Samp finishing ninth in Serie A, the young Argentine was signed by cheese-fuelled calcio heavyweights Parma for a whopping (for the time) £15m in 1998.
At Parma, alongside fellow world-class talents such as - note: the following list is RIDICULOUS - Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro, Antonio Benarrivo, Dino Baggio, Stefano Fiore, Hernan Crespo, Faustino Asprilla, Abel Balbo and Enrico Chiesa - see, I told you it was RIDICULOUS - Veron would evolve into a superstar.
The Argentine would only stay in Emilia-Romagna for a solitary season, but bah gawd what a season it was.
As creator-in-chief in midfield, tasked with finding fellow Argentine Hernan Crespo every time it seemed remotely possible, the 'Little Witch' (his nickname.supposedly complimentary) scored a pretty decent five goals in all competitions and helped guide Parma to a Coppa Italia title and their second ever UEFA Cup.
His performances during that trophy-laden 1998/99 season were so impressive that the following summer Sven-Goran Eriksson, putting his job on the line in process, guaranteed Lazio owner Sergio Cragnotti the Scudetto if the club signed his favourite baldy Argentine midfielder.
Cragnotti obliged, and luckily for Sven, the Veron he was signing was exactly what Lazio needed to take them to the next level; as the Veron that arrived in Rome wasn't just a f**king great player, but he was a leader of men, too.
“When he came to Sampdoria, he was very quiet, very shy. With the years, he became a bit more vocal, but he was never a big talker in the dressing room. On the pitch, however, he talked. He was another coach on the pitch, like Roberto Mancini. He saw things. Veron or Mancini, they would come to the bench and say, ‘hey, we have to do this, this, this’.”
The Argentine international would help Sven keep his word, and his job, during the 1999/2000 campaign by enjoying the greatest single season of his career. Veron bagged a hugely impressive ten goals in all competitions - each more mind-blowing than the last - and led Lazio's late season charge from nine points behind Juventus with eight games to play, to one point clear of La Vecchia Signora when the final whistle of the season blew.
"We were a great team with champions in every role and with a strong character, I’m glad that people have a good memory of me and the whole group. The best day is undoubtedly the day we won the Scudetto, unforgettable."
Veron would stay one more season in which Lazio would finish third behind Juventus and capital city rivals AS Roma, before shipping off to Man Utd in the summer of 2001.
And despite what happened in England during his time there and how much that failure has shrouded his career, those memories of a young Veron on the peninsula steaming through midfield, chipping 50 yard passes over the top of defences to Crespo and firing free kicks into the top corner of the net, still permeate through.
And no matter how many times he's been labelled a 'flop' by English football aficionados, one simple fact remains:
Juan Sebastian Veron was a f**king great player.