Just days after the signing of Jordan Ayew to add to this month’s earlier arrival of Jordan Amavi, Villa have continued their quest to sign all the Jordans in France by capturing highly-rated midfielder Jordan Veretout.
With Nantes granting Veretout his wish of moving to Villa Park despite Leicester City outbidding Sherwood and co. late on, Villa fans not only have another of Ligue 1’s most hotly-tipped prospects to welcome to the club, but another player who was determined to make the move to Birmingham happen.
Safe in the knowledge that Villa will probably have signed someone else by the time you’ve finished reading this, we take a look at the club’s latest French import.
Like Amavi before him, Veretout arrives at Villa with a serious reputation as one of France’s greatest young talents. He was the ‘quiet’ partner in the centre of midfield alongside Paul Pogba (now of Juventus) and Geoffrey Kondogbia (now of Inter Milan) in the France Under-20 World Cup-winning side in 2013, and has been edging towards a call-up to Didier Deschamps’ national side ever since, only being kept out of the squad by the wealth of talent Les Bleus boast in the midfield department.
Even before that tournament he was a teenage regular for Nantes, playing 35 Ligue 2 matches and scoring six goals for the club in his breakthrough season as an 18-year-old, but it was the 2013 World Cup – in which he started every game – which allowed him to announce himself. He made the step up to Ligue 1 seamlessly upon Nantes’ promotion in the same year, and leaves the club having played 144 times competitively for Les Canaris by the age of 22, meaning that he has a great deal of experience under his belt for his youthful age.
His arrival at Villa comes after his best season for the French side, in which he contributed seven goals and six assists and became something of a talisman for the club.
All this has led to him being regarded by many in France as one of the finest young midfielders in the country, and probably the most highly-rated of all the talent that Villa have brought in from Ligue 1 this summer (Idrissa Gueye completing the quartet as the only non-Jordan).
A complete central midfielder?
Over the last couple of years Veretout has transitioned from a generally defensive-minded player into a versatile, all-round midfielder who is also capable of playing box-to-box or as the main creative focal point of the side. He is undoubtedly a work in progress, but he has shown himself to boast the technique and athleticism to utilise both the defensive and offensive side of his game.
He was Nantes’ primary source of attacking creativity last season; though his overall passing accuracy could use some improvement, he supplied 72 key passes in attack, the third highest total in Ligue 1 and a hugely impressive record given that Nantes finished 14th. With a success rate in taking on defenders of 60% in 2015-16 he is also comfortable running with the ball, enabling him to provide more than just a single dimension when Villa are on the attack.
His background as a defensive midfielder means that he is also well equipped to regain possession when Villa are on the back foot. In 36 appearances in the league last season Veretout won 56 tackles, the second most of the entire Nantes squad – not bad for a guy playing mostly as a creative midfielder.
Jordan #3 also has that most important of attributes for a central midfielder: footballing intelligence. His ability to read the game makes up for his relative lack of physicality or aerial presence and enables him to be an understated yet vital presence in midfield, happy to go about his business quietly. He also has a useful ability from set-pieces; four of his goals last season came from the penalty spot, and he must be a candidate to take over from Benteke in those situations.
Whereas Idrissa Gueye was brought in to play a specific, combative role in the centre of midfield, Veretout has the potential to be a high-class utility man for the team. His versatility makes it immediately obvious as to why Sherwood wanted to bring him to Villa Park – he’s a player who can move with the tactical changes during in a game, who can be pushed up or down the pitch as required. All this makes it easy to see why many in the French media believe Veretout is the player Villa fans really should be excited about.
Can we get carried away?
Let’s just interrupt this optimism and take a moment to remember the chilling tale of the last midfielder that Villa signed from Nantes. Mathieu Berson won Ligue 1 with the club in his four years as a regular there before David O’Leary paid a modest £1.6m for him in 2004. Even a decade ago it took quite a lot to make that sum seem an outrageous waste for a 24-year-old midfielder but Berson did just that.
O’Leary even bought Manchester United legend Eric Djemba-Djemba in January 2005 in an attempt to rekindle the partnership he and Berson had enjoyed at Nantes a few years earlier, but that really just made the situation worse. Berson failed to settle, impress, or make any real mark whatsoever in his first year in England and was consequently farmed out back to France on loan in his second year, before disappearing without trace.
Although this tale serves as a stark warning of the perils of plucking ‘talent’ from abroad, Veretout should prove to be a different story entirely. The improvement he has shown over the last year or so has been marked in all areas of his game, and at just 22 he has a good few years ahead of him until he will even reach the traditional peak for a midfielder.
As always with a signing from a foreign league (Berson! Djemba-Djemba! Sylla! Tonev! All the others!), caution should be taken when managing short-term expectations, but give him a bedding-in period in which he is allowed plenty of game without the pressure of being too heavily relied upon and he could become a real gem of Sherwood’s new side.
Moving to the Premier League will mean he has to adapt to a far more pressurised environment, and the relatively large transfer fee will only add to this – a running theme amongst Villa’s transfer activity in recent weeks. However, perhaps more than any other of the club’s new faces, Veretout is seemingly well equipped to deal with the increased scrutiny that life at an English top-flight club with high expectations brings.
Thus far in his short career he has shown all the possible signs that he has the potential to go on to replicate the successes of Pogba, Kondogbia and some of his other World Cup-winning teammates.
As long as he is nurtured carefully and his game is allowed to develop in the right manner – and Sherwood seems a great manager to have at this stage of his career in that regard – there is no reason that Villa can’t prove themselves to have one of French football’s very brightest talents on their books.
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