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Why is Raphael Varane attempting to flee Real Madrid?

Saturday 24th July 2021
Players on Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham's level usually want to go to Real Madrid from Manchester United rather than vice-versa.
Players on Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham's level usually want to go to Real Madrid from Manchester United rather than vice-versa.

Background image: NY Public Library

When it comes to football transfers approaching the nine-digit plateau, there should be no such thing as a stupid question. So, when Jamie O'Hara mooted why Raphael Varane was so desperate to escape the Santiago Bernabeu on TalkSport, it didn’t seem as crazy as a few hardline Manchester United supporters in the Twitterverse labeled it. 

Anyone who’s been divorced understands how easy it is to overlook potential shortcomings when your libido assumes command of your optic nerves. At one point, you were willing to do anything to possess the love of your life. Now, you wonder what in bloody hell you were thinking? 

It’s no different with a transfer target. Many United faithful went through this with Angel di Maria in 2014/15 and are now reportedly parting ways with Paul Pogba. Folk wearing the Mancunian shade of red have more than enough experience with relationships that just don't work to think about potential signings more objectively. Ask yourself whether Varane is truly as ideal as the excitement surrounding his transfer promises?

It’s true that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can do better than Victor Lindelof as a partner for Harry Maguire. It’s also true that Raphael Varane has four Champions League winners medals, three for La Liga and another for the 2018 World Cup. With the dual exception of fellow Les Bleus Pogba and Edinson Cavani, ironically a recent arrival from Paris Saint-Germain, that eclipses anything any United player can boast. Add to that another rare accomplishment: like Marcus Rashford, Varane is one of the few young players Jose Mourinho took under his wing.

On the other hand, Real Madrid have just bid “adieu” to captain Sergio Ramos and said, “Guten Tag Ihnen,” to Bayern star David Alaba. Forget Maguire, Varane already has an enticing new bromance in the offing at the Santiago Bernabeu. Moreover, any pain he suffered under Zinedine Zidane shouldn’t colour his judgment. It's in the past. The difficult taskmaster is gone and grandfatherly Carlo Ancelotti is back in charge. The opportunity to lead Los Blancos into the next generation beckons. At 28, the Spanish capital is the Gallic defender's oyster. Why look for pearls between Ordsall and Gorse Hill?

All reports say that is exactly what Varane is doing, however. Apparently, he is eager to leave a clubhouse where anything less than winning the league and conquering Europe is unacceptable for one where it is. Despite the suspiciously Essexian tinge to O'Hara's accent--he's from Dartford, to be fair--his query should be taken seriously. Why is Varane so eager to leave Real Madrid?

The comparison between the Virgil van Dijk/Joe Gomez partnership and a potential United pairing is fair. The Liverpool duo have pace to burn. They can recover when caught out. Varane and Maguire? Not so much. Nor at 28 will the Frenchman suddenly develop into Usain Bolt. But, although that’s a good bargaining chip for lingering United CEO Ed Woodward to throw on the table while getting down to brass tacks with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, lack of pace only suggests it will take Varane a bit longer to arrive at the Stretford End, not why he is so keen to be there. 

He’s French, so it can’t be that catsup stains are easier to conceal on a red kit than white. What is it, then? Not knowing eats away at the soul.

Understand that this nervous hesitancy isn’t borne out of a suspicion that Varane isn’t as good as the hype. No one ever is. Even the enchantment with Bruno Fernandes wears a bit thin now. His performance for Portugal in the Euros, where he was benched in favour of Renato Sanches, highlighted his tendency to be overwhelmed in big matches. Nevertheless, an admittedly imperfect Bruno still ranks among the Premier League’s very top attacking midfielders, just ahead of Jack Grealish, level with Kevin de Bruyne and a hair or two behind Harry Kane [sic].

The nagging fear isn’t that Varane can’t do the job. It’s that he’s trying to come to Manchester for the reason most players actually mean when they say they’re looking for a new challenge, namely that playing in front of United fans appears much more pleasant than suffering the slings and arrows of vicious Madridistas. Hopefully, I’m mistaken in my fear because, if not, Raphael Varane may soon discover that he was in his. 

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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