VERON - THE NEW FREE-KICK DON?
By Matt Pomroy
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
When Manchester United laid out a sizeable £28.1m for Juan Sebastien Veron they knew they were getting all-round quality, but they were also getting a player who is something of a specialist from dead-ball situations.
The United fans will have witnessed what the Argentine can do last weekend when he hammered a free-kick into the top corner in the 2-2 draw at the Racecourse Ground. Last season for Lazio in Serie A, he attempted 14 set pieces and hit the target with eight of them, although he failed to actually score with any.
There were 10 different players taking free kicks last season at Lazio, with Veron and Sinisa Mihajlovic leading with 14 efforts. The Yugoslavian international scored the Roman club's only two set-piece strikes of the season.
Back in Blighty last term, David Beckham was the undisputed dead-ball Don. It will be interesting to see if he is required to share the set pieces at Old Trafford, as last season it was his sole job and one that he excelled in. Beckham hit the target with 50% of his 36 efforts, scoring five times. In Serie A, only the sublime talents of Fiorentina's Enrico Chiesa managed to beat opposing 'keepers more often than the England captain - six times in fact.
On the international stage, the United midfielder has scored from free kicks in the last two England games (Greece and Mexico) to add to his strike against Colombia in the 1998 Word Cup.
Last season's Champions league performances showed that of Veron's five attempts, he hit the target twice with one of those strikes beating the 'keeper. Beckham did not score but managed to hit the target with seven of his 12 efforts.
With both players being right footed there appears to be direct competition for the duties. As for taking corners then it is highly likely that Beckham will remain the number one choice. Last season the Englishman attempted 166 corners and found a team-mate with a well above average 49% of them.
Although Veron did take 56 corners last season, he was only able to find a fellow Lazio player with 11 of them and a 20% success rate is unlikely to be enough to shift Beckham from his current mantle.
Many top clubs do not have just one person to take the free-kicks with Liverpool and Leeds for example having more than one player score directly from dead-ball situations last season and Ipswich having three. But with a footballer of Beckham's quality in the side, Veron will have to improve on his league showing from last season if he is to claim a share of the duties during 2001-02. Against Wrexham, he certainly gave his team-mate a warning shot.