Raphael Varane's experience at Real Madrid in defense and why he is Manchester United's ideal age.


In 2011, he had been the best-kept secret in European soccer. A young defender with speed and height who was good enough to make it at the highest level. He was only 17 but all the top clubs around the globe were watching him, much to Sir Alex Ferguson’s dismay.

One decade after almost signing Raphael Varane, Manchester United's story about his pursuit has become more significant. Since Ferguson got on the train to France, Ferguson has won one World Cup and four Champions Leagues. According to the United legend, Zinedine Zidane "stooped him up from beneath our noses" in April 2011. This was while David Gill, chief executive, was going over the details of the contract with Lens. Madrid was having a completely different conversation. Jose Mourinho was nearing the end of his first year in the job and was confronted by the reality of what Pep Guardiola's Barcelona had become. It was a bitter pill to swallow after the 5-0 defeat at the Nou Camp in November. It was necessary to rebuild. Zidane was working as a special advisor before being named as the new sporting director that summer. He stated that a Lens center-back would be better than Laurent Blanc, who had just won the World Cup. The deal was signed and the work began. Varane scored in Varane's home debut in September but was relegated to second place by Mourinho who brought the title back from Spain. The young defender considered it a learning year. Mourinho is known for favoring experience but his last season saw him rely on the most youthful center-back pairing of any major European club. Madrid's success over the next decade was built on Varane's friendship with Sergio Ramos. Karanka was not only Mourinho's assistant but a crucial figure at Madrid during Mourinho’s time there. He was the conduit between Mourinho's combustible coach and a club where he was part of three Champions League victories during his five-year tenure as a player. He recalls Varane's arrival. Karanka says that he was a young man back then. ok Sports But even as a young man, you could see his keen understanding of the game. He was extremely intelligent. His family was also very supportive of him. "He was clearly a very skilled player, but what struck me was his intelligence and the desire to learn every day. There was still much to be learned for all his immense potential. Varane was thrust into the spotlight at the biggest club in the world and faced many challenges. Marca once called being a Real Madrid center-back a 'riok job since football began. Defenders are expected to dominate the opposition. They must keep their feet on the ground and leave wide open spaces behind. That demands speed. With opponents in mind, they will target them with long balls and put pieces into the box. That demands strength. Madrid center-backs should be able and willing to play, but also strong. Varane was a youngster and had not yet filled out his physical form when he arrived at Valdebebas' training ground. Mourinho quickly put Varane on an individual fitness program to prepare for the job. Varane gained nine pounds of muscle mass in his first year living in Spain. This was only one aspect. He also needed to be more tactically sound. Karanka helped Varane improve his anticipation and movement to position himself for clearing the ball. Karanka says, "We would often leave behind after training to continue working on things." "Given that I was in the same position, I worked with him individually, and he asked for my advice." Jose taught him something every day, just like all the other players he managed." Karanka was most impressed by his humility and willingness to make the necessary improvements. He adds, "His personality was all in knowing what he wanted and striving to improve." This was a rapid progression. Varane quickly won over his fans. Karanka's Copa del Rey semifinal against Barcelona in January 2013 was a standout game. Varane was only 18 months old when he made his Madrid debut. However, his team had been one down in Madrid when Varane scored the equalizer. In the press conference, Karanka praised Varane and Madrid won the second leg at the Nou Camp. Although they lost in the final, Mourinho's reign was ended in acrimony. Varane didn't have to wait too long for the big trophies. Following Mourinho's departure, the club won its first Champions League title in 12 years. Zidane was appointed coach. They were soon followed by France's World Cup win in 2018. Varane was 25 when he had finished football. Three years later, Varane moves on after completing all he could in Madrid. The right time is now for new goals and the Premier League will present its own challenges. Karanka is confident that he can succeed at Old Trafford. He said, "There is no doubt that he's a great signator." He has everything that Manchester United needs to succeed. He is ready for the challenge and is in a great age. He will continue to be motivated, even after he has won all he has. I know him well enough to understand this. He was just a prospect ten years ago. Raphael Varane now is the complete defender.

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