Manchester United and Roma collide in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final tie on Thursday, starting with an Old Trafford showdown — and Jordan Veretout returns to England with a point to prove.
Veretout, 28, has been in stellar form for the Giallorossi this season, forming an integral part of Paulo Fonseca’s midfield, and he will be relishing this matchup against English opposition, having turned out for Aston Villa in 2015/16.
The Frenchman was identified by then manager Tim Sherwood as a player who could elevate the Villans to new heights, having shone for Nantes in Ligue 1 and garnered a reputation as a highly-effective box-to-box midfielder.
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The transfer was seen as a real coup at the time and Sherwood revelled in the “delight” of fending off interest from a number of rival bidders, including Leicester City, who would famously go on the win the Premier League that season; while Villa finished rock bottom.
It was a whirlwind campaign for Veretout and a sobering experience in the English top-flight, as Villa went through a revolving-door period of managerial changes, culminating in relegation from the Premier League, and the disappointment only augmented by Leicester’s fairytale triumph.
Veretout initially went on loan to Saint-Etienne while Villa slogged it out in the Championship in 2016/17, where the French midfielder actually met Man Utd in the Europa League round-of-32, with Jose Mourinho’s charges winning 4-0 on aggregate en route to continental success.
Now at Roma, Veretout will be hoping to fare slightly better than during his brief stint at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, and he enters this contest as the club’s top goalscorer in Serie A this term (10), though half of his finishes have been from the spot, while he has also registered the third-most completed passes (1096) at the club and ranks second for possessions won in the middle third (75), underpinning his expansive repertoire.
So, it’s quite the Roman renaissance for Veretout, who will now be looking to help guide his side to a first European victory away to English opposition since February 2001 (1-0 vs Liverpool in the UEFA Cup), with the club having failed to win any of their previous 12.
Man Utd have also not lost at home in a European semi-final since April 1997 (0-1 vs Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League), so the scale of the task at hand for Veretout is monumental, particularly as he will be pitting his wits against the in-form double pivot of Fred and Scott McTominay, as well as trying to keep a lid on Bruno Fernandes.
Of course, Veretout’s career trajectory could have been slightly different had he opted for the East Midlands over the West Midlands all those years ago, but the Frenchman has since revealed he harbours no regrets over his decision to snub the Foxes in the 2015 summer window.
“First of all, Aston Villa were the club that came for me first,” he said at the time.
“I gave my answer to them before any involvement with Leicester.
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“Yes, Leicester did want me and it was an interesting proposition but Villa spoke to me more than they did and that’s why I’m here.
“It was a good choice. Aston Villa are a big, traditional club. That was a factor in why I joined them.
“I do know their story and their rise to the top has been incredible. Although I chose Villa, full marks to Leicester for doing what they have.”
Veretout featured sporadically at the start of his Villa career under Sherwood, later revealing the Borehamwood-born coach kept him in the dark over his lack of minutes.
“I could hear he trusted me, but in the end I was on the bench every weekend,” he said.
“I didn’t have an explanation, and it was difficult to speak, especially with the language barrier.”
So, from being snubbed by Sherwood, Veretout is now fulfilling the potential that initially saw him rise to prominence all those years ago at Nantes, and his involvement could be key in determining the outcome of Roma’s penultimate powwow with Man Utd.