There’s plenty of excitement surrounding France’s next generation and most of it is warranted. There is no doubt that a change of guard is imminent, the when and where is up to Didier Deschamps. The young French brigade are pushing for spots right through the line-up. While not among the ones in direct contention as of now, there’s still plenty to like about Nantes’ Jordan Veretout.
Who is Jordan Veretout?
Born in the town of Ancenis, just down the road from Nantes, where he currently plies his trade, Jordan Veretout has piled up nearly 150 first-team appearances for Les Canaris across all competitions. Having just turned 22 in March, the midfielder is contracted until 2017 and is highly thought of by the management at FC Nantes, Chairman Waldemir Kita having recently remarked that, “the player will stay with the club, but if an offer of €100 M were put on the table, I would think twice.” That said, his contract is rumored to include a release clause of just €6 M.
Having featured at all of the youth levels for France, including 2013’s U-20 World Cup-winning side, Veretout is now hoping to make the final leap into Didier Deschamps’ senior side. If he can bridge this gap, he would be following in the footsteps of fellow Nantes academy graduates such as Jeremy Toulalan, Marcel Desailly and Deschamps himself. A regular member of the U-21 squad but not yet close to the senior side, Veretout continues to improve and despite a relatively high number of matches played, should still be considered a prospect, his path in terms of matches played similar to that of Deschamps at this point.
At Nantes, Veretout has played the majority of his matches under Michel der Zakarian, a manager who has a bit of a reputation as a taskmaster, wringing the most out of an offensively limited side by playing a high-intensity pressing game. Within what is often a 4-2-3-1 with the wingers playing wide and high, aiding the lone striker (usually Serge Gakpe) in harrying opposing back lines, Veretout was generally used as a central midfielder initially, but has more often this season been used as a no. 10, a move which not only acknowledges the youngster’s eye for a pass but also the emergence of Kian Hansen, who had been moved from central defense to a holding role.
Style of play, Strengths and Weaknesses
Probably best considered a box-to-box midfielder, Veretout’s play is multifaceted. When used as part of a double pivot, he is not only adept in the tackle, but also able to get forward at will, an accomplished dribbler who takes advantage of the space behind the forwards to give Nantes an attacking option in central areas. With der Zakarian encouraging the wide players to join the forwards in pressing high up the pitch, most of what Les Canaris create going forward comes from deep, either via Veretout or the fullbacks. As a nominal playmaker, Veretout is also a dangerous part of this system, given more creative license but more difficult to counter than a typical no 10 because of his ability in the tackle. With his pace and defensive instincts, Veretout is quickly able to turn an interception into a counterattack, breaking up the opposition’s play and worrying opposing defenses.
What is probably the best part of Veretout’s game is how he is, while not inexperienced, still relatively young and thus developing. As fertile as Ligue 2 can be, however, it is probably best if we are considering Veretout as a prospect on the global scale to evaluate his performance solely on his Ligue 1 numbers, that is, the last two seasons. Comparing 2013-14 to the season which just ended, we see gains across the board in tackles, successful dribbles, interceptions and key passes, as well as goals and assists. While being deployed further forward would bring with it a natural increase in key passes and dribbles, the fact that Veretout’s defensive numbers also exceed last season’s despite a shift in position is likewise impressive, and speak to a player whose development continues apace. In terms of passing, not only has he recorded more key passes, but he has also developed a more multifaceted game in that regard, increasing the number of long balls and crosses which he plays while maintaining an accuracy of roughly 80%, a decent if not outstanding percentage. In this manner then, Veretout is sort of a slow burner, a player whose true potential is still a ways from being realized, despite the number of matches in which he has played.
In many ways, however, Veretout can be labeled as a jack of all trades, but a master of none, at least to this point in time. His numbers across the board have continued to improve, but nothing he has done really speaks to a definitive future in a given role, especially if he moves away from Nantes. His goal-scoring has increased this season, yes, but with 4 of those having been penalties, it is hard to point to that aspect of his game as improving. While asked to do more in terms of being a passing threat, Veretout has sometimes struggled with making the simple pass within Nantes’ system, failing at times to link consistently with the wide players, a quick shift of play stymied by his over-eagerness. Considering Les Canaris’ relatively limited opportunities, one might wonder what a more truly creative midfielder could do in the circumstances. Discipline, too, has been a bit of an issue for Veretout, as he was booked 6 times in the season, a relatively high number for a player in his position.
What does the future hold?
With a relatively low release clause, it would be no surprise to see Veretout moving on this summer. The player has stated a preference for Spain and its focus on technique, with Atletico Madrid a rumored destination. One could easily imagine Veretout as a long-term replacement for Gabi, adding depth alongside Saul Niguez if not figuring in the starting XI immediately. Arsenal, Inter Milan, and Newcastle have also been mentioned as potential destinations. Wherever the player’s future lies, he has stated that were he to leave Nantes, it would only be for a club with European football on the table, limiting his options domestically. For this writer, however, another season in Nantes would probably suit Veretout best, as despite his superb start to the season, he still hasn’t, for me, demonstrated the particular level of aptitude necessary to succeed at a club that is demonstrably bigger than Nantes, be it abroad or within the confines of Ligue 1.
With the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi approaching 30, but the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin, Moussa Sissoko and Geoffrey Kondogbia already making their presence felt, breaking into the senior squad in central midfield is going to be a tall order for Veretout. Likewise, with the likes of Nabil Fekir, Clement Grenier and Antoine Griezmann occupying attacking roles, positions further forward are also the home of fierce competition. With his position still not fully defined, Veretout would likely be best served in terms of his career’s progression by continuing to develop as a central midfielder, especially with Hansen having moved on.
Written by Eric Devin