A year-and-a-half ago, Juan Sebastián Verón got cold feet and backed out of a deal that would have made him one of the biggest stars ever to join Major League Soccer. Could the Argentine international be ready to try again?
After years of speculation, it seems Verón finally may leave his beloved Estudiantes de La Plata for a move elsewhere. He has attracted heavy interest from well-established European, Mexican and Brazilian clubs, but Verón's most viable option could be MLS.
Verón, who turned 34 on Monday, rejected a lucrative move to D.C. United in the summer of 2007, turning his back on a reported annual salary of more than $3 million. In the end, La Brujita said, he wanted to claim an international trophy with Estudiantes before the end of his career.
But after experiencing his fair share of success with his homegrown team, Verón could be forced out. In recent weeks, he has been blamed for his team's poor form, not because of his on-field performances, but because of the influence he has on the club and its finances.
Last month the playmaker said he wished to stay at Estudiantes, but that he was "sick and tired" of the ongoing accusations linking him with "secret" negotiations with players and agents over big-money transfers.
"I feel like staying, but I have been accused of things that at this stage of my career I would prefer not to be involved in," Verón said. Then, this past Monday, he reiterated his frustration, stating: "In these moments when things aren't going well, those who want me to leave appear."
Verón has taken much of the responsibility for Estudiantes' disastrous start to the Argentine Clausura Championship, where it finds itself in 18th place in the 20-team league with only one win in its first five games. To make matters worse, Estudiantes is on the brink of elimination from the Copa Libertadores after suffering a 1-0 defeat to Deportivo Quito in Ecuador on Tuesday. Estudiantes has one of the strongest squads in the competition, and many believe the internal conflict within the squad is the reason why it's underachieving.
The damage is unlikely to be repaired and, according to the Argentine press, Verón's exit could be near. He has admitted that all his confidence in mending the rift is lost, and that he could have no choice but to find another club when his contract expires in June.
This is where MLS has a perfect opportunity to intervene. D.C. United may have failed to secure Verón's services a couple years ago, but that doesn't mean clubs should back off. The midfielder evidently was keen on a move and was just a signature away from making it reality before changing his mind at the 11th hour.
Although D.C. has filled both of its Designated Player slots this season, several clubs could make a bid for the experienced Argentine international. Despite his age, last year Verón played some of the best soccer of his career, leading Estudiantes to the final of the Copa Sudamericana. As a result of his accomplishments, he was honored as South American Footballer of the Year for '08.
Much like the way MLS Cup '08 winner Guillermo Barros Schelotto has exceeded with the Columbus Crew, Verón has the potential to make a huge impact on the league and the players who surround him. Not only does Verón have 10 years of experience in Europe's big leagues with clubs such as Inter Milan, Manchester United and Chelsea, but he also was a key member of the Argentine national team at the '98 and '02 World Cups.
There's no doubt he's a world-class player, but if one day he were to move to MLS, the best way for him to make a smooth transition would be by being surrounded by capable players with ambition. Throughout his career, Verón has been characterized by his exceptional radar-like vision and dead-ball accuracy. If his teammates aren't up to his level, he could get frustrated and his adaptation could take longer than expected. Such a thing happened last season to highly paid D.C. United reject Marcelo Gallardo, who has made an instant impact since returning to River Plate with two superb goals last Sunday.
Another factor that could severely dent the chances of Verón moving to MLS is the fact that his national-team position could be at risk. With the '10 World Cup just around the corner, it may not be a smart choice.
Although an ankle injury kept him out of Argentina's 2-0 friendly victory over France in Marseille in February, Verón was initially part of Diego Maradona's squad. He's expected to continue to be part of Argentina's World Cup qualifying campaign, which picks up again at the end of this month. (And with JuanRomán Riquelme announcing he's quitting the team -- for now, anyways -- Maradona desperately needs veteran leadership.)
Verón might not be guaranteed a spot in Maradona's starting XI, but as many South Americans have learned, a switch to a league like MLS -- thousands of miles away and of a lower caliber than the Argentine First Division -- likely would take him out of consideration altogether.
At this stage of his career, Verón isn't willing to give up his national-team spot for the sake of earning a bigger extensive salary. He may even have learned a lesson or two from former Manchester United teammate David Beckham, who knows how it feels to be out of the limelight.
To be sure, MLS has gained increased popularity around the world. But although the league continues to progress each year, its credibility is still a step behind. Verón may be tempted by a move to MLS in the future, but he might have to think twice -- again -- before making a final decision.