KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY: Juan Sebastian Veron’s admiration for English football is no secret back in Argentina. His election as president of Estudiantes de La Plata sparked jibes that he would kick off by translating the club name into English as ‘Students of Silver.’
Veron’s devotion to European methodology is hardly surprising. He spent the finest decade of his career wandering creatively up and down Europe for Sampdoria, Parma, Lazio, Manchester United, Chelsea and Internazionale.
Eventually he wound up back at Estudiantes where his father had scored goals for the cynical South American champions of the late 1960s and where the son had been a member since before he could remember, aged two.
Estudiantes won little after that until the return of the young Veron coincided with a double success in the Apertura championship and attainment of Copa Libertadores glory in 2009.
Few players have risen to the pinnacle of power in Argentinian clubs. Mostly it’s businessmen and politicians who have accessed the ladder of public visibility and popularity or notoriety.
One of the few players to ascend from captain’s armband to presidential desk was Daniel Passarella. But his reign at River Plate will remain forever marked by the humiliation of having presided over the lone relegation in the Millonarios’ proud history.
Veron takes the reins in La Plata at ‘only’ 39 and at a watershed moment in Argentinian football.
Julio Grondona, who dictated 30 years as president of the AFA, died in July. Suddenly Argentina has no-one sitting at world football’s top table and no-one of substance to confront the crises of clubs debts, illicit ticketing for the Barras Bravas and a championship model which changes from year to year.
Veron, asked by this writer to take a view of post-Grondona Argentinian football, had nothing to offer bar uncertainty: “I don’t know what will happen. It’s a difficult time. It’s impossible to see what happens next.”
If Veron is reluctant to address the wider stage he is much more certain about what he wants to achieve on a local level in addition to the cash he has invested already in the training facilities.
He hails his election as “an important step” because he wants to develop a holistic management style through which the status of players evolves from hired hand to managerial partner.
Veron says: “We need to make sure the players – athletes, sportsmen – become involved in running our sports. My experience is that, in South America and Argentina, players need to realise they should become involved in everything to do with management.
“We have a deep vision [for Estudiantes]. We are working and talking with many different people from many different countries. Exchanging opinions on a daily basis helps you understand what teamwork should mean especially for those of us in South America and, more particularly, in Argentina.
“Leadership in our country is changing in many spheres. It used to be very individualistic where just one or two people would lead or manage a club. But we believe it should be all about teamwork. We need to implement a new type of management with new vision from the European and American approach.
“Europe sets the standard we need to try to emulate. This is difficult because our structures are very outdated but it’s up to me – at Estudiantes – to get these things done.”
For Veron, however, this is not only practical but personal. He says: “I was enrolled in Estudiantes when I was two years old. My Dad started his career with Estudiantes so what I am doing now has an emotional context but this means even greater responsibility because of what the club means to me.
“I always say it: The club is my home. It’s the centre of your social life. It’s where you meet your friends, brothers, parents.”
Herein lies danger.
Veron’s dedication to Estudiantes is not in doubt. But the moment his heart starts to rule his presidential head the alchemy will be lost. No silver. Only lead.
** Juan Veron was speaking during the Aspire Global Summit: Football Performance and Science at the Pavilion Cambon, Paris.