Raphael Varane expressed his enthusiasm upon joining Manchester United in August 2021, citing the club’s iconic status and the allure of playing in the Premier League as irresistible. The £40 million investment in the star defender seemed like a fantastic deal at the time. After a decade, 360 matches, 4 UEFA Champions League trophies, and 3 La Liga titles with Real Madrid, Varane left the club as a legend. Surprisingly, Real Madrid thrived in his absence, securing domestic and Champions League titles in the season following his departure.
Varane’s debut season with United proved challenging due to frequent injuries and a drop to sixth place in the Premier League. However, the appointment of Erik ten Hag in the next campaign revitalized the team, benefiting Varane, who formed a promising partnership with Lisandro Martinez. United’s return to the top 4, qualification for the Champions League, and ending a 5-year trophy drought with a Carabao Cup win showcased a positive turn.
Despite turning 30, Varane, with his experience, initially appeared to have a secured starting position. However, Harry Maguire and veteran Jonny Evans unexpectedly relegated him to the bench. Ten Hag’s choices sparked debates, with some analysts questioning Varane’s absence, while others argued that United performed better without him. The manager emphasized Maguire’s form and internal competition when queried about Varane’s situation.
Maguire, once seemingly out of favor, reclaimed his spot and the captaincy, contributing to United’s victories and clean sheets. Ten Hag strategically avoided pairing Maguire and Varane, evident in the Frenchman’s substitute appearance against Copenhagen, resulting in a defensive collapse.
Varane’s struggle to adapt to the pace of the Premier League, physical challenges, and technical errors became apparent. Despite initially capitalizing on breaks during international fixtures, an injury disrupted his form towards the season’s end. Recent reports suggest Varane has accepted being a non-starter at United, prompting speculation about a potential departure in the upcoming transfer window, especially with interest from Saudi Arabia.
While Maguire faces constant criticism, his unwavering determination contrasts with Varane’s reported reluctance to compete for a starting spot. The dedication of the English defender is acknowledged, even amid doubts about his qualities. Varane’s contract runs until 2025, but the trajectory hints at an uncertain future. The experienced player, having won accolades with Real Madrid, may undergo a resurgence or seek a fresh start.
In Real Madrid, Varane was among the world’s best defenders, possessing qualities that, despite recent struggles, arguably surpass those of United’s current defenders. The return of Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw further diminishes Varane’s chances, placing Ten Hag in a challenging position. If Varane fails to elevate his performance, his transfer to United may be remembered as one of the club’s most disappointing post-Sir Alex Ferguson era moves. Despite moments of brilliance at Old Trafford, Varane’s anticipated impact on the team remains unrealized, potentially marking his stint as surplus rather than impactful.