Seba Veron, an heir to Cerezo
A couple of decades ago when I worked in the West End of London, I used to frequent a little Italian café, sadly no longer in existence, so I could watch the Serie A on their satellite TV.
The main draw for me was a Brazilian midfielder called Toninho Cerezo. One of his compatriots once ingeniously described Cerezo as having the appearance of two little men, one on top of the other, both trying to run in different directions. He could indeed look a little ungainly. But few players have ever run a midfield with so much elegance.
He received possession behind the line of the ball, giving him a full panorama of the action in front of him. He passed the ball long and short, and after giving it was immediately on the move to initiate the next phase, and he had an eye for the surprise, killer ball that undresses the defence.
I became addicted to Cerezo towards the end of the 1980s, when he was the heart of an excellent Sampdoria side, making the bullets for the likes of Vialli and Mancini to fire. I was lucky enough to be at Wembley for his last, and biggest, game with the club - the 1992 European Cup final. He was 37, but Barcelona paid him the compliment of putting their best midfielder, Bakero, tight on him to stop him working his magic. Meanwhile, Barcelona had a young midfielder who may not have had the same physical dynamism of Cerezo, but was blessed with a similar capacity to understand the game around him and alter its course with a superb range of passing - Pep Guardiola.
Anyway, flash forward to the start of 1996, I was already based in Rio and took my first trip to Buenos Aires.
I caught a game of Argentina's Under-23 side, who were preparing for the qualifying tournament for that year's Olympic Games.
It was an excellent generation, one that would form the backbone of the senior side for the next two World Cups - Ortega, Crespo and Claudio Lopez were on duty, and in midfield Bassedas, later of Newcastle, was considered a big name. Much more impressive, though, was the player alongside him, a lanky figure who ran the game from the centre. With his range of passing and his mobility, the 20 year old reminded me of Toninho Cerezo. His name was Juan Sebastian Veron.
Obviously I was not the only one to make the comparison. Veron was still with Estudiantes at the time, though he joined Boca Juniors a few days later. He didn't stay long. Just a few months later he was snapped up by an Italian club who wanted to make him the centre of their midfield - Sampdoria.
English fans often seem to believe that Veron was a flop in Europe. That was certainly never the case in Italy. He gave excellent service to Sampdoria, Parma, Lazio (where he won the title) and Inter Milan. And he had some good moments in England as well. But the Manchester United move was a strange one. It was always difficult to see how he would fit in to the side that, bizarrely, used him at times with his back to goal. Chelsea came at a time in his career when he was dogged by injuries. Perhaps also in both Manchester and London he was unable to make an emotional connection with the club and its supporters.
Indeed, he turned his back on European football precisely because of the connection he felt with Estudiantes. It was much more than his first club. It was the club where his father, Juan Ramon, was the star player in their three consecutive Copa Libertadores wins four decades ago.
Veron junior has been like a man possessed striving to take the club, by no means one of the traditional giants of Argentine football, to title number four. Last year they fell in the second round to eventual winners LDU of Ecuador. Last week they went all the way, carrying the Argentine challenge alone from the quarter-finals on, finishing the campaign with an unbeaten run of 11 games which terminated in a 2-1 win away to Cruzeiro of Brazil in the second leg of the final.
The winning goal was from one of his superbly struck corners. The golden rule of crosses is that the quicker they come in, the harder they are for the defence to deal with, and Veron whipped the ball in at pace for Boselli's header.
The outstanding moment, though, was the equalising goal. Picking up possession around the half-way line in the left channel, Veron moved across, picked his moment and then threaded a superb pass into the path of Cellay, bursting forward from right back. It caught Cruzeiro by surprise - the art of a good pass - and Cellay's low cross was turned in by Gaston Fernandez.
It is a moment that I hope got Toninho Cerezo, now coaching the Arab Emirates, up on his feet and applauding. Not just because he starred for years for Atletico, Cruzeiro's big local rivals, but because it was a touch of pure creative midfield play, of the type which he spent over 20 years producing with such distinction.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) With the recent success of Shakhtar in the UEFA Cup and of course the part their Brazilian contingent played in winning the trophy, is there any chance of the likes of Willian, Fernandinho, Jadson, Luiz Adriano, Ilsinho forcing there way into contention for Dunga's plans for the World Cup or is it simply a case of the Ukraine league not being well enough regarded or their achievements not being significant enough to register with the Brazilian public?
A) No, I don't think Dunga works like that. Elano got in while he was at Shakhtar - in fact while things were not going particularly well for him there, and Dunga also made a point of giving opportunities to a number of Russian based players.
The problem faced now by the players you mentioned - and others on the outside - is that Dunga seems to have formed his group. The players he has chosen have won the Copa America, the Confederations Cup and are leading South America's World Cup qualification table, so it's hard for others to break in before the World Cup. The left back position still looks up for grabs, but apart from that it's going to take something special - or an injury to a first choice player - for an outsider to make a late run.
Q) What can you tell me about Taison? I've been reading a bit about him and everything I've read suggests he will be one of the next big signings from South America. He bagged four awards last season in the Rio Grande do Sul championship (best player, forward, top scorer and biggest revelation). From what I've read he seems to be very quick, good with the ball at his feet and a great finisher. Is there any suggestion as to where he'll go to if the European move does come off?
A) A fair description - lightning quick, with and without the ball, and with an eye for goal, the 21 year old is yet another quality product to roll of the production line of Internacional of Porto Alegre.
He's a huge, huge promise - but time for a word of caution. The goals were rolling in in his state championship and in the early stages of the Brazilian Cup. But you always have to bear in mind that the standard of play here is appallingly low. Reputations - of teams and individuals - can be built up much too easily. With the possible exception of Sao Paulo, the state tournaments are a waste of everyone's time. Once you get to the real stuff it was clear that all the 'get Taison in the Brazil side' talk was premature. Some of his recent displays have been dismal - in the two legged Recopa (a European Super Cup equivalent) against LDU of Ecuador he was anonymous as his side lost 4-0 on aggregate.
This is all part of growing up in public. I think he has an enormous future, but there are stages he still has to go through, and I expect him to do that with Internacional for a while longer. They are a well run club, and I think they will e very reluctant to sell until they've enjoyed having him for a year or two. He's under contract til the end of 2013.