Not many are able to force their way onto the cusp of the Real Madrid starting eleven these days, but even fewer manage to do so at such a tender age as Raphael Varane. The 19 year old Frenchman has, over the past few months, presented a strong case to manager Jose Mourinho for a regular starting place with a number of assured displays at the heart of the Madrid back four. Madrid’s best kept secret is out and now the world is aware of Varane’s ability with praise coming from all directions.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, a profound judge of raw young talent, admitted recently that he wanted to sign Varane but Madrid stole in when Varane was still plying his trade at Lens in Ligue 1. Had it not been for the input of Madrid’s ambassador Zinedine Zidane, who suggested Madrid pip Arsenal to the signing of Varane, the move to England could quite easily have happened. Madrid stumped up €10m to the French club when Varane was just 17 and has improved significantly since.
Another to admire the way Varane plays is Madrid number two Aitor Karanka. He called Varane’s recent performances ‘spectacular’ and was surprised by the maturity shown by the 19 year old, as was former Madrid centre-back Fernando Hierro, who described Varane as ‘having it all’.
Amidst the injuries and suspensions at the Bernabeu, Varane has slotted into the back four perfectly and shown a knowledge of the game seen more regularly at the opposing end of the age scale. Varane reads the play as though he’s been in the game for 15 years, boasting a class not seen by a French defender since the days of Laurent Blanc, making difficult situations appear simplistic. He is moulded into the type of player more commonly seen roughly 10 years ago when Cannavaro, Ferdinand, Maldini and Nesta were in their prime and could put their foot on the ball to relieve pressure without feeling the need to try anything flash.
At Madrid, those type of players exist in Sergio Ramos and Pepe, both susceptible to a mistake and incidents of over aggression. Centre-back is arguably the toughest position to play which is why such players feel it necessary to input shades of physicality, which is not always such a bad thing. The difference is that Varane possesses such class that he diffuses a dangerous situation with consummate ease. It’s as though he’s been fitted with a comfortable suspension whilst Pepe and Ramos prefer to adopt a ‘Range Rover’ style of play.
Varane’s height makes it easy for him to compete physically and in the air whilst on the ground his athleticism is at a standard where he can keep pace with players and thwart them. But, again, it is his ability to assess a situation and relieve the pressure which has made Varane stand out from the rest. In two of his best games for Madrid, against Manchester United and Barcelona, Varane has saved Madrid with superb last-ditch sliding tackles and cleared off of the line to prevent a certain goal. In the Clasico Varane then popped up at the death to head in an equaliser, proving a danger too from set-pieces. Combined with his clearance off of the line, Varane left the game worth two goals to Madrid and has probably kept them in the Copa del Rey.
Considering the challenges a modern centre back faces, it is alarming that Varane shows such maturity in his game at just 19 years of age. Looking at his characteristics at this age leaves us in no doubt that Varane will become a truly great player and leader in the heart of the defence, something both France and Real Madrid have been lacking in recent years.
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