One of my favorite parts about running this site is the connection that we get to make with other Villa fans. Nobody watches the game with more passion than do we fans, and we all have years of knowledge built up. So I absolutely jumped at the chance to hear from one of our readers who has spent the past few years watching Jordan Veretout play for FC Nantes.
Mike Schwartz, who can be found on twitter @RipCityVillan, is that rare breed of fan that I have literally seen no other examples of: he supports both Aston Villa and Nantes. You can read about how he got into the latter here, but Mike offered to give us his take on our new French Jordan. Oh wait, that's not specific enough. His take on Veretout. So we sent him a few questions. Below, you'll find his answers.
7500: After getting to watch Veretout at Nantes, what would you say his biggest strengths are?
Mike: As the latest big-time product of "la Jonelière", Nantes' famed (it should be more well known outside of France) academy, the first strength Jordan brings to Villa is his pedigree. Jordan is the next in line from the school that produced such midfielders as Didier Deschamps, Marcel Desailly, Claude Makélélé, and Jérémy Toulalan, and was an integral part of France's U-20 World Cup victory in 2013, starting in the midfield next to the likes of Geoffrey Kondogbia and Paul Pogba. The difference between Veretout and his Jonelière counterparts is that he's not by any means defense-first. Jordan is an emerging box-to-box mid, and when he's at his best - especially considering his body type - can remind you much more of a prototypical English #8 à la Gerrard, Lampard, or - dare I say - James Milner. He's obviously not at that level yet. At 22, however, Jordan has excellent vision in traffic and can find teammates in space with his feet and head. He is extremely dangerous with his head up and the ball at his feet, and while he can appear unremarkable for large chunks of the match, he'll pop up in an important spot and spark a counter and/or create a chance from nothing.
I've heard a lot about his set-piece ability. Is Veretout the answer to one of Villa's longest-lasting problems?
He very well could be, if Sherwood gives him the opportunity. It will be interesting to see how Jordan is handled; He joined the Nantes academy in 2003, at 10 years old. I'm used to him being "the kid". Now, he's a shiny new signing from abroad, a very different role. Villa's squad is as flush with creative talent as it's been since the MON era, but it's also a young squad, so I don't think Jordan will lose out on opportunities due to seniority. At his best, he fills up the offensive stat sheet with crosses, successful dribbles, key passes, and assists. Jordan is right footed but solid with both, and I can absolutely see him taking free kicks, especially in close-range crossing situations. He is also extremely cool and collected from the PK spot.
Most everything I've read says that Veretout is not the finished product that Idrissa Gueye is. What does he still have to work on?
At 22, Veretout is by no means a finished product, especially in a position as demanding as central midfield. Idrissa Gueye is older (25), more settled (as a defensive midfielder), and has played the equivalent of a full season more than Jordan, all the while at Lille, a perennial top-of-the-table contender. Most of Veretout's development, by consequence, occurred while Nantes were mired in Ligue 2 and playing manager roulette; the current manager, Michel Der Zakarian, is himself in his second tour of duty in five years. So in that way, Veretout is coming from a much more volatile setup. Randy Lerner looks mindful and stable next to Waldemar Kita, whose bright idea for rescuing the club from Ligue 2 was signing Sylvain Wiltord, Bruno Cheyrou, and a host of journeymen. What that all lead to was a lack of direction for the young starlet.
Stuck in a Milner-esque quandary of "is he a winger or central midfielder, and if so, is he defensive", Veretout finally found some stability in the last two years at Nantes, and needs to continue that momentum at Villa in order to reach his potential. Jordan needs to work on not disappearing from matches; when he's on the ball, he is alert and looking for opportunities, but when the game moves away from his side of the field, he tends to drift out of the action. In addition, he will need to adjust to the speed and physicality of the Premier League, versus the more tactical approach of Ligue 1. Jordan's first touch isn't always as soft as he'd like, but the French game allows a bit more space and time to collect the ball compared to the in-your-face English style.
You're Tim Sherwood: where do you play Veretout to get the best out of him?
The English media has been unfairly comparing Veretout to Tom Cleverly. The latter plays a more advanced role, more where I would expect to see Ayew, Grealish, and/or Gil, whereas Veretout gets forward, he doesn't start there. The Guardian came out with a graphic last week that - for me - nailed it on the head. Sherwood should play Jordan on the right side of central midfield, the Milner to Gueye's Gareth Barry.
Thanks to Mike for taking the time to answer our questions!