Raphael Varane is a Manchester United player. This line is not out of a time machine from 2011. The World Cup-winning French defender has joined from Real Madrid for a fee of £41 million.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 14, 2021
Raphael Varane was entering the last year of his contract with Real Madrid and with the defender determined to not pen new terms, Madrid felt the need to cash in instead of letting him walk away for free next year.
How does Varane suit Manchester United? Is his transfer a value for money deal? What will be the expectations from the French centre-back? FootTheBall grades the Raphael Varane to Manchester United transfer-
Raphael Varane’s reputation in the game is probably enough to make this section redundant. Varane joined Real Madrid from Lens in 2011, at the age of 19. Since then, he has been a crucial cog of one of the most successful teams of the modern era. Forming a rock-solid partnership at the back with Sergio Ramos, Varane won four UCL titles, three La Liga titles, and numerous other honours at the club level.
On the international scene, Varane played every minute of every game as France won the World Cup in 2018. He is the youngest player in football history to win three UCL titles, winning his third at the age of 24, beating Paolo Maldini, who won his third at the age of 26.
SAF is close to tying up a £3million deal for the Lens defender Raphael Varane who turned 18 yesterday & is 6ft 3in #MUFC
— Craig Norwood (@CraigNorwood) April 26, 2011
Interestingly, Manchester United was one of the teams that Varane was close to joining in 2011, before his eventual move to Real Madrid. Varane was always viewed as a precocious talent in footballing circles since a young age, and after more than fulfilling his potential at Real Madrid, he looks towards being the main man at a resurgent Manchester United side.
VALUE FOR MONEY
By all accounts and purposes, the reported price tag of £41million would seem like great value for money for a player of Varane’s quality.
Manchester United have been quick to act on a potential opportunity as Varane’s contract at Real Madrid was winding down. The player would have been able to walk on a free transfer next year as he was in the last year of his contract. Therefore, it made sense for Real Madrid to adhere to the player’s wishes and let him leave once he refused to sign renewed terms.
In a market where the pandemic has hurt the finances of every club, with most clubs looking for bargains, swaps, or loan deals, Manchester United have secured a world-class defender entering his prime years for a cut-price fee due to contract dynamics. Manchester United’s transfer business since the days of Sir Alex has been criticised heavily, but with the renewed structure at the club, this deal would no doubt endear the club to its huge global fanbase.
FIT AT THE CLUB
While Manchester United finished second in the Premier League last year, questions were repeatedly asked of their haphazard defensive structure. The club conceded the most goals (44) among the top-4 sides, two more than Liverpool, who, at times, looked like they played with a different centre-back partnership every game due to injuries.
Their inability to stop the leaking of goals could mainly be put down to two factors- porous while defending set-pieces, and a lack of pace in the backline.
🗣 "Lindelof's problem is Maguire, and Maguire's problem is Lindelof"@GNev2 talking in February about Manchester United’s defensive issues
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) July 27, 2021
Harry Maguire, for all his talent, is not the one who could keep up with quicker attackers. This led to the whole defensive line dropping deep, as regular GK De Gea is not renowned for his sweeping capabilities either. This whole system rendered the pressing unit of the team toothless. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has repeatedly stressed that he wants his team to play on the front foot and move forward, a lack of pace in the backline hindered that.
Raphael Varane changes that dynamic completely. Varane is one of the quickest defenders in the world. Furthermore, playing with the more physical, robust tackler in Sergio Ramos has prepared him to be the one to cover behind his defensive partner. Ideally, Manchester United would be looking at Varane as the perfect partner for Harry Maguire. Their games complement each others’ perfectly. The Varane-Maguire axis could be a title-winning backline, with Maguire covering for Varane’s faults in tackling, and Varane covering for Maguire’s lack of pace.
🥴 Manchester United have conceded 14 goals from set-pieces in the Premier League this season, just one fewer than Manchester City have conceded in 𝘁𝗼𝘁𝗮𝗹 pic.twitter.com/A022wS6Ajf
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 24, 2021
As for the set-piece problem, the club has already hired a set-piece coach. Moreover, Varane is more proficient in aerial duels than the player whose place he will presumably be taking, Victor Lindelof. Due to Maguire’s aerial dominance, opposition teams have often targeted Lindelof, sticking their big men on him with the sole purpose of making him uncomfortable. With Varane, standing at 191cm, United gain a bit more height and aerial assertiveness, without giving up, and arguably upgrading on, Lindelof’s ball-playing skills.
Although his transfer fee is good value for money, the expectations surrounding Varane’s move comes more from his illustrious playing career so far. He played at Real Madrid as the junior defensive partner to Sergio Ramos, but with so many accolades under his belt, he would be immediately expected to slot in at the heart of the defence and instil a winning mentality at the club.
Manchester United are looking as healthy as they ever have post-Sir Alex under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but he has not been able to deliver silverware so far. With a serial winner now at the club like Varane, it would be expected that the team gets over that final hurdle and starts making its own history.
Since its rebrand in 1992, only Cristiano Ronaldo  was won the UEFA Champions League more times than Raphaël Varane .
One of the best CVs in football history. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/G0SZ4W4Uqu
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) July 26, 2021
For Varane, this is his chance for a new challenge after he won everything there was to be won at Real Madrid. Varane would be looking to prove that he can step up to be a leader in a winning team that is full of exciting youngsters. Success here would mark his legacy in the football history books, as a serial winner who brought his elite and driven mentality to every club he played for.
Manchester United still look like a defensive midfielder away from proper title contention but the addition of Varane is a statement signing from the club. Poaching a world-class defender entering his prime from Real Madrid, more so due to the player’s absolute desire to join the club instead of signing renewed terms, is an indication that the club is slowly rebuilding in the right direction.
Solskjaer has been properly backed now and the pressure will be on to deliver a trophy and something close to a sustained title challenge. The Varane signing looks to be a home run in that regard. Complemented by a proper defensive midfielder, the United side will start looking like a title-winning team.
FINAL GRADE: A