Our columnist takes a look at the French midfielder growing into his own already under coach Paulo Fonseca...
Three years ago, Jordan Veretout was relegated from the Premier League with Aston Villa.
Last season, he narrowly avoided a similar fate in Serie A with Fiorentina.
Yet now, three months into the new season, he is already becoming one of the most influential players for Roma.
With the club having signed big name players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Chris Smalling over the summer, the arrival of Veretout, on loan with an obligation to buy, was perhaps not the most exciting at first sight. However, in these formative weeks of the new season – and indeed his own Roma career – Veretout is beginning to make a serious impression.
While Smalling has stood out for his impeccable defending, making match-saving challenges like his goal-line clearance against Napoli, and the evergreen Edin Dzeko has led the line superbly to get the goals at the other end of the pitch, bubbling under the surface there has been Veretout in the middle of the park.
With his first Roma goal coming against Napoli last weekend – proving to be the winner – the Frenchman is now starting to come to the fore.
It has been a difficult few weeks for Roma’s midfield, given the injuries to Amadou Diawara, Bryan Cristante and Lorenzo Pellegrini.
Left for a time as the only fit, natural central midfielder in the squad, one may have expected Veretout to be forced to play with the shackles on. However, thanks in part to the emergence of Gianluca Mancini as a defensive midfielder but mainly down to Veretout’s strong sporting mentality, no such problems have arisen.
Veretout has demonstrated an excellent will to win, perhaps first highlighted in the victory over Bologna in September. With the game deep into stoppage time, Roma seemed to be on the verge of a frustrating draw, when they won a free kick in the middle of the park.
Needing inspiration, it was Veretout who showed the initiative to dribble half the length of the pitch, with his surging run seeing him fly past several opponents, before setting up Lorenzo Pellegrini – whose cross was headed home by Dzeko to clinch a dramatic victory.
As telling as Veretout’s impact in that run of play, was the way he celebrated after. As soon as Dzeko’s header hit the back of the net, Veretout fell to the ground in ecstasy. This was his moment as much as anyone’s.
Roma, as a club and as a city, is built on strong emotions. That celebration showed that Veretout was already becoming consumed by it – giving him a platform from which to thrive.
Since then, he has shown several more examples of his relentless attitude. Always a dynamic presence in the midfield, Veretout is grabbing games by the scruffs of their necks, stamping his authority in an area that has been decimated by injuries.
The 26-year-old is making sure that Roma aren’t being restricted by those absences with his dogged determination and desire.
Earlier in the season, Bryan Cristante was earning plaudits for his work rate in midfield, while also showing improvements in his passing ability. Since he has been sidelined, Veretout has picked up the baton, carrying on from where the Italian left off.
In Serie A games, he has completed 88% of his passes – more than any of his midfield teammates except Diawara, who has played significantly less up to this point. Thanks to his excellence in keeping the ball moving, Roma have been able to retain the ball better than some may have expected given their shortage of midfielders.
Instead, Veretout is acting as the glue, binding together their transition from defence to attack.
And it’s not just in open play that he is impressing. It takes a brave man to stand over a free kick at Roma, knowing Aleksandar Kolarov will be there alongside you. Veretout is a player who does not shy away from a challenge, though, and is eager to take on even more responsibility. And while he may not have scored from a free kick yet – unlike Kolarov, who has already done so against Genoa and Bologna this term – he is showing the kind of confidence that could prove vital.
Veretout’s delivery from corners has been exceptional thus far, leading to an assist for Nicolo Zaniolo in the first Europa League clash with Borussia Mönchengladbach. And it was another dead ball situation that gave him his first goal, against Napoli.
After Kolarov had already seen a penalty saved by Alex Meret earlier in the game, Veretout took control of the situation when Roma were awarded another spot kick in the second half. While Meret got a hand to it again, Veretout’s strike was hit with enough ferocity to leave no doubt about its final destination – the back of the net.
Not for the first time in his blossoming spell with the Giallorossi, Veretout stepped up when his side needed him, to make a decisive impact. Winning is the ultimate aim for every player, but some show they want it more than others – and Veretout is one of those who do.
Even when the going gets tough, his passion never fades. In the return fixture against Borussia Mönchengladbach, he continued to work hard and drive up the pitch, spurring Roma on as they looked to turn the match around.
While the final result was not the one they wanted, Veretout’s performance on a personal level was once again highly commendable.
Roma’s midfield has been in a phase of transition recently, following the sales of Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman last year, and the departure of Daniele De Rossi at the end of the 2018-19 season. All three were warriors who would prove hard to replace instantly.
And even though Veretout is unlikely to ever receive the same level of admiration from the Stadio Olimpico crowd as hometown hero De Rossi, he is already making the first few steps towards emulating Nainggolan and Strootman – players who, despite the lack of local ties to the club, earned the respect and admiration of their fans thanks to their commitment and work ethic.
Veretout has all the elements needed to become the next enforcer in Roma’s engine room. He has certainly started on the right track.