Raphael Varane got a taste of what’s to come from the Old Trafford crowd before he even kicked a ball for his new club. Roared on to the pitch before the 5-1 opening Premier League win last Saturday, the Frenchman began training with his new club the following day.
He’s been to Old Trafford before as a Real Madrid player and started in the side which won 2-1 in the second leg in March 2013 and knocked United out of the Champions League in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final European game.
His central defensive partnership with Sergio Ramos was the best in football. They won four Champions Leagues together, but in this odd football climate where the former captains of Barcelona and Real Madrid now play together in France, United managed to sign one of the best defenders in the world for what seems like a bargain £34 million, potentially rising to £42m, fee.
United were prepared to go higher, but Madrid needed money and had been half hearted in their attempts to retain him. Knowing this, Varane had long made it clear to United that he wanted to join them.
United were cautious at first and weary of being played as they felt they had been with Ramos, yet in talks with Varane and his brother, United felt his desire to move was genuine and he impressed his suitors with detailed questions about how United played, how they planned to play in the future and about the club.
The questions have never stopped.
“He's been humble, inquisitive,” his manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told The National before Sunday’s Premier League game at Southampton. “He asks questions, he doesn't want to learn by a mistake in the game but on the training field before he goes on the pitch. Everything about him has been impressive.”
Varane’s fitness levels have impressed his new boss: “He’s a naturally fit lad and he’s had a good week. He’s coming through the last session and if that goes well, he’ll probably travel [to Southampton].”
Varane will wear 19, the number he wore when he joined Madrid from Lens in 2011. He later wore number 4 and 5 and was fine not wearing those numbers when he arrived at Old Trafford as he knew they’d been taken. He didn’t want to rock the boat over a shirt number for a team he’d not even broken into.
Everything United wants
The last decade has been extremely kind to the 28-year-old.
“I think if you've followed football the last ten years, that’s the reason we want to sign him, for what he’s done over his career,” added Solskjaer. “It’s no secret we were close to signing him when he left for Real Madrid ten years ago, Sir Alex was there speaking to them.
“And ever since, his performances on the pitch, his demeanour off the pitch … it tells me that he’s a Man United player. We managed to convince him to have the feeling of Man United, but I think that has been in his heart ever since he went to Real Madrid.
“He had a feeling for Man United and we definitely had feelings for him for many years. The Champions League wins he’s had, the World Cup win. Everything about him is class. As a defender, he’s quick, strong, good in the air. He can play with both feet. Everything about him is what you want.”
In addition, United consider they can play three or five at the back with him, Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire, and play it with confidence against the best teams.
That’s unlikely, but it’s an option which the club were not always comfortable with when Eric Bailly played. Ironically, Bailly had one of his best games in a three in an away win at Chelsea right before the pandemic struck.
Will Varane and new signing Jadon Sancho play at Southampton?
“Well, you’ll see on Sunday,” said Solskjaer. “They’ve worked well, they’ve had minutes, we’ve had a very good week ourselves and we’ll see who is making the flight down on Saturday.”
One player who won’t be on the flight is Andreas Pereira, en route to Rio de Janeiro to sign on loan with Brazil’s best-supported club, Flamengo.
Brandon Williams is also set to sign on loan for Norwich City, with more outgoing loans expected, including midfielder James Garner to Championship side Nottingham Forest. Amad Diallo may also go on loan, with other fringe players, too.
United will subsidise wages but the clubs they join have to be the right ones, where players will play and improve. Varane’s rise at the age of 17 was so rapid that Real Madrid wanted him for their first team. He fulfilled his potential in Spain and for his country.
Now, it’s time to do the same for Manchester United.