Raphael Varane made his Clasico debut in January 2013 in the Copa del Rey, a step into Europe’s most fiery theatre from which the young centre-back emerged completely unscathed and with his reputation enhanced.
It was the perfect performance from the French centre-back. Varane displayed incredible pace, defensive intelligence and capped the outing with a headed goal to tie the game at 1-1. It was Real Madrid’s big announcement to the world that they’d landed a genuine superstar in the making; it was Varane’s announcement to the world that he’d arrived.
Jose Mourinho should take some of the credit. Varane’s inclusion at time in the Real starting XI was forced both through injury and suspension, but the youngster did a heck of job retaining his place when senior options became available once again. Mourinho has been heavily criticised in the past for failing to develop young players at most of the clubs he’s been at during his time as head coach, but Varane is the exception.
This past season has been a difficult one to take for the French centre-back. Disrupted by injury, he’s had little chance to build on his momentum from the previous campaign.
But that hasn’t lessened his accomplishments at having been a regular in the Real team under Mourinho. The expectation is still that Varane will become one of the leading centre-backs in Europe, if not the very best, and it’s no surprise that Chelsea are said to be plotting a move for the 21-year-old this summer.
Chelsea’s need in plain: having just seen off David Luiz to Paris and with John Terry coming to the end of his career, additions are needed. Kurt Zouma is a player with a high reputation in French football and the youngster could become a regular at Stamford Bridge over the coming years.
Forgive the slight cynicism, but nothing is certain when it comes to Chelsea signing up and then developing young players from around Europe. Varane, on the other hand, is a player Mourinho knows well and who he’s shown much faith in.
But like Chelsea, Real Madrid’s need is equally transparent. Pepe and Sergio Ramos have been the club’s first-choice this past season, but beyond them – and with Varane injured for long periods – the team have had few options. Nacho Fernandez has shown his versatility and performed well whenever called upon, but he isn’t of the calibre of Varane. At the same time, Pepe is 31 and soon may come a point where the Portuguese international can’t be relied upon to play every week.
The newly- crowned European champions did a lot to prise Varane from Lens three years ago, with Zinedine Zidane personally taking on the duty of making contact and convincing the youngster that his future lay in the Spanish capital. The club have foolishly sold good and great players in the past with little thought, but they can’t afford this one.
It isn’t a matter of finance, but wholly about exceptional quality. Had Varane not already transferred to Madrid, he’d develop into exactly the kind of player the club would be chasing in a few short years.