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The Surprising Rise of Guillermo Varela – The Brightest Spark In Manchester United's season?

Monday 14th March 2016
Let's be honest, there hasn't been much to cheer about this season for Manchester United fans. Yet, the Red Devils support have found solace in a raft of Old Trafford academy talents given game time this term, as well as watching other young players in the squad exceed expectations.

Marvellous summer signing Anthony Martial and the eye-catching exploits of Marcus Rashford have been seen as the biggest triumphs of the season so far, and given the most headline space accordingly.

Though, fledgling full backs Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and, in particular, Guillermo Varela, have arguably been the most accomplished and consistent youngsters thrown into the first-team fray, stepping into the depleted defensive fold with aplomb.

With Luke Shaw expected to slot in as the first choice left back upon his return from injury, it looks as though only Varela has the chance to become a permanent fixture, after being one of the most promising performers since his surprise ascent.

Check out Varela's best bits so far:
Now, the rampant right back is giving Red Devils fans another reason to celebrate, as Varela is on the verge of his first Uruguay cap, having been called up for his country's next set of World Cup qualifiers against Brazil and Peru, at the end of March.

It's a big step for the 22-year-old, who may have turned 23 by the time of his La Celeste bow, and one few could have predicted at the start of this season. The case of vibrant Varela is surely a curious one...

The Montevideo-born defender was plucked from boyhood club Penarol by Premier League giants Man Utd back in 2013, at the beginning of the much-maligned David Moyes era - though remained rooted in the reserves.

Eventually, in a puzzling move that appeared to precipitate an Old Trafford exit, Varela was sent on a season-long loan to Real Madrid Castilla for 2014/15.

Yet, the Uruguayan returned to the Northwest in summer aged 22 and still to make a senior appearance for either of United or Madrid. Though, to intrigue these two teams, clearly there was talent there to be tapped.

Varela finally made his debut, with both right back options Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian sidelined, against West Ham United in December.

While just days before the starlet had been linked with a switch to Serie A side Genoa, with Varela himself admitting “I wanted to leave”. After his Hammers bow, the rest is history.

Though, it was inclusion in United's injury-riddled roster in the Champions League that was the turning point for the South American, as Varela told ManUtd.com: "It gave me a kind of inner calm to say that I could compete at the level of the Champions League. Then, I knew I can be here and I can play.”

Varela against Wolfsburg:
And play he has, earning plaudits for his roving runs and devilish displays down the flank. But, now on the cusp of reaching double figures for first-team appearances, Varela also sounded a note of caution, saying “I think my main task is to keep working on a day-by-day basis to show the coach that I am a candidate for a regular first-team spot.

“I wouldn't say I'm an automatic pick now, that would be a bit premature."

With Valencia back in the mix, and Louis van Gaal sure to give toiling Italian Matteo Darmian more chances to convince, Varela could soon find himself down the pecking order again.

But, if this often stagnant looking United team are to stand an outside shot of making the top four, keeping Varela in the XI could be crucial, as the defender gives his team an extra dimension.

Having been lucky enough to see Varela in action at Pride Park, as Man Utd met Derby County in the FA Cup earlier this campaign, it was the Uruguayan that stood out in that away XI, even more than Martial's mazy runs.

Varela's highlights v Derby:
It's well known that the Manchester club struggle to create down the right, with Juan Mata or Jesse Lingard farmed out to that flank with limited results, before Rashford's recent emergence, but Varela has provided somewhat of an antidote.

Against the Rams he looked alert, adventurous and energetic up close. Never afraid to ask for the ball or risk a foray forward, with a fair few of the youngster's probing crosses unlucky not to have anyone on the end of them, Varela was not out of place alongside Chris Smalling and co, with a few notable interceptions on the night too. It was a solo performance that remained in the memory, albeit against a Championship team - but there have been more reasons for praise since.

Though whoever is picked out wide, overlapping runs are required, something which Darmian has appeared reluctant or unable to do, looking far less dynamic than when fielded as a wing back for Torino, or in the blue of Italy. While, Valencia's return may provide gusto, but he lacks the guile and panache needed to inspire down that side of the pitch.

Against Liverpool in the Europa League, Varela struggled against the intent of Alberto Moreno, who himself struggles with the basics when on the backfoot, but that Anfield outing saw far more seasoned pros come away with redder faces.

A little rust and rashness is to be expected of an inexperienced player, gaining his first top-level experiences at the age of 22. Of course, the bread and butter for a defender is to, well defend, but for an ambitious club the role of right back is much more demanding.

With all the technical tools in his locker to provide dangerous deliveries, which is a refreshingly consistent hallmark of Varela's game, and the raw pace to allow for overlapping runs and quick recoveries, the rest will come with time.

Since the days of Gary Neville, right backs have come and gone for the Red Devils but, after Varela stated, “in time I can reach 50, 100 or 200 games in the shirt,” they may just have their future full back pick already in the ranks...

Stats from Wikipedia and Transfermarket, quotes from ManUtd.com
Holly Thackeray
Full-time content writer, English Lit grad and long-time Manchester United fan with an affection for Japan and the Azzurri. Also, if you like darts, I definitely belong to the Barney Army ;)

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