UTD Unscripted: How Veron changed my life
One night in 2010, the whole Estudiantes squad was driving to one of Seba Veron’s houses for a team dinner.
But not me.
I was about to get in my car to set off for the dinner when Seba stopped me.
“No, no. Come with me,” he said.
At the time, there was talk of me having an offer to leave Argentina and play in Russia, and he wanted to talk to me about it. This was Seba Veron. My hero. Everybody’s hero at Estudiantes.
So I got in his car and we talked. And talked.
The whole way to his house, we chatted. He told me that it was an opportunity for me to grow as a player, as a person, to learn new things and live in a different culture. And without a doubt it would also be to help my family.
Playing in Argentina, I would be able to help my family, but playing overseas, the South American player makes a bigger difference and he made me see that. He told me that it wasn’t easy because he played in Europe for 10 years and he missed his family and his friends, but that it was a sacrifice that would make me grow as a player.
This meant a lot to me.
I went to Russia. When Seba tells you something, you listen. He is the most important player in Estudiantes’ history, after all.
"It was so hard for Seba to leave his house because, even at the training facility or the stadium, so many fans would wait to ask him for photos and autographs."
It was a shame that things didn’t really work out for him at United, but it did mean that he eventually ended up back at Estudiantes, the club he started out at, for a second spell.
By that time I was also a player in the youth team, around 16 years old, and it lifted the whole club to have him back. At that point, the club always sat in the middle of the standings. We were an ordinary club in Argentina. And when he arrived, it was incredible to see how he raised the level of the players, and how he raised the club’s level as well. He revolutionised the whole club.
I started training with the first team when I was 17 or 18, and it was an incredible experience. My first ever training session with the first team… I could never forget the feeling of that moment anyway, when I used to go watch every single game at the stadium as an Estudiantes fan… but to see Seba there, to share a football field with him and run alongside him, it was just incredible. Incredible.
Firstly because of his quality as a player, but also his quality as a person, seeing him after he spent so many years in Europe. His mentality and his way of thinking was different. It wasn’t usual to see that in Argentina. To see how he would think and play every game, it was a lesson for us every day.
Of course, he could – and would – speak. He was everything at once: he was a leader and a dominant figure. If things didn’t go the right way, he would get mad. He always set an example. He was the one who would train more, the one who would work the hardest during games. That’s why he would get mad if things didn’t go the right way or when some players didn’t play their best. I think that made everyone raise their level of play. He was always there, on top of everyone at training, screaming, supporting and trying to get the best out of every player. I think that’s what made the team grow so much.
"Seba would see the game differently. He had a calmer view of the game. When everyone was going loco, running up and down, he was always a step ahead."
He would see the game differently to everybody else. He had a calmer view of the game. When everyone was going loco, running up and down, he was always a step ahead. He controlled the ball very well, and his best attribute was his passing. His through balls, his crossing and switching of the ball were what made him stand out. Oh, and his ability to shoot from outside the box. If he ever had open space to shoot, his chances of scoring were very high.
He was our captain and he was always a role model for all of us. He was an excellent and positive leader for all the players. I was a fan of the club and to see that a player of his quality and worldwide fame wanted to come back to Estudiantes to play for his club, his home, that motivated a lot of young players to try to imitate him.
I always tried to follow and imitate him.
I still do. I try to do everything I learned playing alongside him.
Before Seba’s arrival, Estudiantes were just a normal team. With his arrival everything was strengthened. We won championships, played finals, won the Copa Libertadores; a lot of things that in the past would have been so difficult to achieve, but after his arrival, anything seemed possible.
Of course, the fans loved him. It was incredible to see that love. It was so hard for him to leave his house because even at the training facility or the stadium, so many fans would wait to ask him for photos and autographs. Everyone was always after him. In Argentina people are crazy for football, they want to take pictures with their idols all day, and they could be outside his house all day waiting for him to leave.
Nowadays he is president of the club and he is running Estudiantes very well, so the fans love him even more. It is one of the biggest clubs in Argentina now and the team has a new stadium. Previously, we never had our own stadium - we were always tenants – but he fixed that. Without a doubt for everyone and for myself, he’s one of the most important people in the club’s history. He will be a legend forever for Estudiantes de la Plata.
In fact, he was even playing two years ago, at 42, because of a promise he made to the supporters as president. Argentinian football clubs always need money, so he promised that, if the club sold a certain amount of box seats in the new stadium, he would play again.
They did, so he did.
No surprise either, he did it very well. With his age it’s a bit more difficult for him to run next to the young players, of course, but he still has the technique. He still has the magic.
"Seba recommended where I should live in Manchester. He told me: ‘Look for a house here, it’s close to training and it’s a quiet neighbourhood’."
I’m in constant communication with Seba, sending him messages or chatting over the phone. And every time I’m back in Argentina on holiday or with the national team I try to stop by at Estudiantes, to say hello to my former teammates, to say hello to everyone who works there and he is always there. He’s always there to tell me something and offer advice.
Of course, I speak with him about United.
I know he still regrets leaving United.
He was only here for two years, but he also arrived in a time when the club had great players playing his position, so that made it hard for him and he took the decision to leave. He always spoke great things to me about this club.
When Seba heard that I might be coming to Manchester in 2014, he called me and asked me if I would be signing or not. When I told him yes, that everything was all set, he told me I had made an excellent decision, that it was without a doubt, for him, one of the best clubs in the world.
He recommended where I should live: where he lived. He told me: ‘Look for a house here, it’s close to training and it’s a quiet neighbourhood,’ so he offered me advice given he already knew the city. He was very happy with my move to United.
Sometimes it crosses my mind, the fact that my career is similar to his. I left Estudiantes, moved to a small club in Europe and I have grown little by little. Playing for the Argentina national team, playing at a World Cup, and to now play for what I think is the best club in the world, without a doubt I think my career has similarities to his.
I hope that I have a lot more trophies to come and that, one day, my career can be as good as his.