Manchester United’s pursuit of Raphael Varane has reportedly been given some encouragement over Real Madrid’s willingness to do a deal, but is he the right man for the club?
United have been linked with the 28-year-old French international for a couple of years, and going further back, they almost signed the player as a teenager from Lens before Real Madrid’s Zinedine Zidane, then coaching the Castilla side, intervened to persuade him to move to Spain instead.
Real got themselves an exceptional player, one who was consistent and talented enough to maintain a place as Sergio Ramos’ long-term partner. With Ramos now set to join Paris Saint-Germain, Real are understandably keen to keep on their other senior centre-back, but they must be realistic. With one year left on his contract, they must organise a new deal or let him go this summer in order to avoid taking a financial hit.
To that end, they have apparently decided that if they are to sell Varane, they will compromise on price, making him available for around £50 million. In addition, they wish to bring Donny van de Beek to the club on loan with an obligation to convert the deal to a permanent transfer in the summer. They are using the asset that United want in order to get their hands on a player they wished to buy until Covid-19 ruined their finances.
For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, such a swap probably appeals. He went into the last transfer window wanting a right winger, a striker and a central defender ready for the first team, and only got Edinson Cavani to satisfy those three priorities. Van de Beek demonstrated his talent for Ajax already, but the Norwegian clearly either doesn’t trust the Dutch international, or was proving a point that he was not the player asked for. This confused approach to transfers might be over now that Ed Woodward has left, but the mess he left needs to be resolved.
Letting Van de Beek go would be part of a solution. If it brings in Varane, it solves another problem. Victor Lindelof has been a desperate disappointment since his arrival from Benfica and is only mildly calmer now he has been paired with Harry Maguire. The pair do not complement one another, and with Maguire evidently the superior player and more encouraging presence for the team, neither Lindelof nor Eric Bailly can be considered first-choice partners for the England man. Varane is a much better option.
The French international might not have been at his best for the last year, but these things are relative. Even with a drop-off in form, he is far better than United’s existing alternatives and the only reason not to bring him in now would be if there was an easier and more talented player to bring in. Pau Torres could be that player but his release clause makes him more expensive, and he has less experience at the top level – Varane has the World Cup, Champions League and La Liga to his name, and has years of experience dealing with the best forward lines in the world. Solskjaer is keen to focus on more than just the playing qualities of the players he brings in, so Varane’s experience and winning track record are perhaps why he is so keen to go for him despite other potentially credible misgivings.
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There is also another reason for United to consider Varane above other defenders who are potentially available. Paul Pogba enjoyed his best season for United in the most recent campaign, and took that form into the European Championships, even improving upon it. He was one of the best players at the tournament, too. Now, United can’t afford Kylian Mbappe, and there are few other players in the first team they would be able to get hold of. Varane offers them a chance to help Pogba play with the teammates with whom he plays his best football. He also might help United convince their star player to remain at the club beyond his current, final contracted season, just as Jadon Sancho might go some way to convince Pogba that titles are now a realistic target for the club.
Varane is not perfect, but few clubs can aim for that at the moment. United have miles to go in order to make their first team one of sufficient quality to match their fans’ aims, and that also goes for the staff behind the scenes. For now players, fans and Solskjaer should concern themselves with the fact that even when he is in poor form, Varane is a huge upgrade on their current resources.