A great journey comes to an end

 

On June 22, 2011, Lens president Gervais Martel confirmed to a group of supporters at a club meeting that Varane would be joining La Liga club Real Madrid.  Varane had previously visited Real Madrid’s club facilities and also met with club advisor and compatriot Zinedine Zidane. On June 27, the move was confirmed by Real Madrid after Varane successfully passed his medical. Varane signed a six-year contract with the club.

Varane made his competitive debut for Real Madrid in the team’s league match against Racing de Santander. He started the match at center-back alongside Ricardo Carvalho as the match ended 0–0.

In the team’s next league match three days later against Rayo Vallecano, Varane started and scored his first goal for the club after a flying back-heel shot following a Mesut Ozil corner.

Varane’s goal made him the youngest foreign player at 18 years and 152 days to score a goal in a competitive match for Real Madrid.

Varane made his UEFA Champions League debut in a 3–0 group stage win over Ajax. Two months later, Varane made his second Champions League appearance against Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb. In the match, Varane started and assisted on the team’s fifth goal, scored by Jose Callejon, in a 6–2 win. The victory ensured Real Madrid first place in its group.

A glorious journey of ten years started and in these ten years, Varane witnessed the ups and downs in the club and became part of Real Madrid’s football folklore when he formed a great partnership with the legendary Sergio Ramos.

From the 2015-16 to 2017-18 season, the Los Blancos enjoyed great success and Varane played a crucial role as a center-back, while during the transition period after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Varane fought hard to keep Real Madrid alive.

But all good things come to an end and the time has come for Varane to experience new challenges.

On July 27, 2021, it was announced that Manchester United and Real Madrid had reached an agreement for the transfer of Varane, subject to him signing a contract and passing a medical.

Raphael Varane has been described as being a “Rolls-Royce” and “an absolute bargain” after his £34m move from Real Madrid to Manchester United was agreed.

He will join fellow new arrivals Jadon Sancho, signed from Borussia Dortmund for £73m, and free transfer Tom Heaton at Old Trafford as manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer builds a squad to try to improve on the second place they achieved in the Premier League last season.

As long as his medical is successful and personal terms are finalized, Varane would take United’s spending on players to just short of £400m since Solskjaer was appointed on a permanent basis in March 2019, eclipsing the outlay of Manchester City (£298m), Chelsea (£262m), Tottenham (£255m) Arsenal (£243m) and Liverpool (£119m) in the same period, according to Transfermarket.

After the departure of Sergio Ramos, the absence of Varane would be huge and is expected to affect the backline of Real Madrid.

Over the years, Varane has offered a lot.

According to Marca, “The first quality that makes Varane such a good player is his ability to cover whenever other defender is applying pressure on the opposition.”

“This accounts for any gaps that the defender applying pressure may leave in their place. It also means that, should the opposition player make it past the defender, Varane will be in a good position to then challenge the player.”

“The second quality that sets Varane apart from the rest is his ability to close the space in front of the opposition player as they receive a ball, leaving them very little room to turn into and be creative.”

“Thirdly, Varane knows how to move his game out wide to support the fullbacks when the opposition tries to make runs around them.”

“This cognitive ability to read when to support the full-back will help him well in the English game since so much of the play revolves around the wide players rather than trying to pass the ball through the midfield.”

“Finally, the new Manchester United defender knows how to move the ball into the open space when necessary.”

“This is crucial when playing for a side that usually dominates possession since it allows the team to constantly move the play and keep the opposition on their toes.”

One can say, all modern defenders possess such qualities, but the difference between the best and others is about precision – people like Varane can do such things all day with absolute precision and consistency.

Thus, Real Madrid need to focus on replacing him with someone who could be as good as him and yes, it is time to move on rather than wasting time on the past.

David Alaba and Eder Militao

David Alaba and Eder Militao can be the next pair on whom Real Madrid can invest faith.

Alaba ball-playing centre-back who uses his playmaking skills to carry or distribute the ball upfield and pace to mark forwards making runs around the defence and as a left centre-back, he is able to link up very well with the left-back and can cover the left area of the pitch when the full-back moves up. He also gets the opportunity to operate with his stronger left foot as much as possible from that position.

Alaba is an expert in placing himself in a convenient position for his teammates. When the play starts from the back, Alaba positions himself in empty space to progress the ball, offering a numerical advantage in the team’s buildup phase. He also quickly repositions himself after passing the ball to an immediate option so that he is accessible in case his teammate wants to pass the ball back.

While receiving a pass, Alaba can delay his first touch if he is under pressure. This helps him switch to his stronger left foot and gives him ample time to make his next move.

Meanwhile, Militao is a versatile defender and in the last season, he had been absolutely fantastic in the absence of injured Ramos.

He stands at 186cm, which isn’t particularly tall for a central defender, but he remains imposing for a full-back. His added height out wide provides another defensive advantage, as he can attack diagonal balls with ease.

Despite his size, Militao is relatively nimble and hasn’t been particularly exposed by fast, mobile wingers. His ability to defend along the touchline is very good for his age, as he can delay attacks, block crosses, and force the ball out of play with his strong upper body. When one-on-one against runners he’s excellent at timing when to cut his run across an opponent (above), helping him to reach loose balls or long aerial passes. This is significant against quick forwards, who look to run directly in behind.

He has occasionally struggled against wingers who prefer to start wide, but then cut inside with the ball – usually a trait of wrong-footed wide players – shifting his weight from right to left causes an imbalance, which can then lead to an inability to take possession away with his left foot.

Sometimes he will therefore attempt to use his stronger right foot to tackle, which leads to an even more awkward body shape. Any wide attacker who is capable of cutting inside and dribbling diagonally towards a goal may find themselves beating him in a one-on-one situation.

Despite being predominantly renowned for his defensive attributes, the Brazilian youngster has on rare occasions played further forward in a defensive midfield role. When part of a backline, Militão can offer accurate longer diagonal passes out to the far side (below) – across to a winger running in behind, or a vacant wide midfielder. His short build-up play needs refining, but his ability to hit long balls is already of a high standard.

The backup plan

But, there has to be a backup for Real Madrid and for which, rather than thinking about signing some big stars by breaking the bank it would be ideal for Real Madrid to strengthen the defence.

Pau Torress of Villarreal has impressed everyone with his technique and boldness in the Euro, La Liga, and UEFA Europa League. He is composed on the ball and is also a threat from set plays because of his lanky physical build.

While Chelsea are in talks with Sevilla regarding Jules Kounde, Real Madrid remain silent which is not surprising because Perez has said, they would not go for new summer signings. Still, the mind changes and it would be better for Real Madrid if they have a look at Kounde who had been a brilliant performer last season.

He can score, possesses very good control over the ball, and can guard the backline like a soldier – qualities which Real Madrid would need.

Then there is Joe Gaya of Valencia, who enjoyed a great 2020-21 season – he is a full-back but can be a competent center-back as well. Stefan Savic of Atletico Madrid could also be on the list – tough one but if Perez wishes, he can mobilize the issue whereas Kimbeppe of Paris Sain-Germain, who might struggle for minutes due to the arrival of Ramos, can also be considered.

Conclusion

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The wish of each and every Real Madrid fan is the signing of big guns like Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. If Real Madrid sign them then it would be a blessing, but to be honest, without a solid backline, Real Madrid cannot think of achieving bigger things and thus organizing the defence should be a big priority for the Los Blancos. Yes, the replacement of Varane is not possible – well, there are competent defenders like Militao and Alaba and what Real Madrid would need is their ideal backups.

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