The center-back, 18 at the time, would end up choosing Real Madrid following a late intervention by Zinedine Zidane. But even as the seasons passed and silverware piled up in the Spanish capital, Manchester United remained on his mind. Ferguson did not get his man back but his trip to Lille was not in vain.
“It was a special moment for me and my family,” says Varane. Air sports, speaking on Zoom from the club’s Carrington headquarters a decade later. “It’s amazing to meet a person like him at 18. You know, after that, it’s your destiny. Ten years in Madrid and now I’m here. “
Varane smiles. He has no regrets and why should he? He became one of the best and most decorated defenders in the world during his time at Real Madrid, winning 18 trophies, including four Champions Leagues, and becoming a World Cup winner with France.
Ferguson could be forgiven for wondering what could have happened watching Varane excel in his late debut against Wolves from the director’s dressing room in Molineux. But the feeling at Manchester United a month after arriving for £ 41million is that it was worth the wait.
They acquired Varane at the height of his powers. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke about the quality and experience of the 28-year-old. But he also described him as “humble” and “curious”.
A player who has won everything is hungry for more.
“It’s my mentality,” says Varane. “I want to be better. I want to improve myself. I want to surpass myself.
“It’s a new challenge for me,” he adds. “A different competition, a different mentality, a different atmosphere. It’s all new to me but I have enjoyed every day so far.
“It’s a big challenge to bring Manchester United back to the top, but I feel like people want to win, people want to do great things with this club, and that’s a great motivation for me. “
Varane was sold on the project by Solskjaer – “he told me about the ambition of the team, and how I to feel playing for Manchester United, ”he says – and it also helped him to be able to pick the brains of his close friend and international teammate Paul Pogba.
“Paul told me about the club, the atmosphere, the expectations,” says Varane. “Of course, he’s a great player. But he also has very good positive energy. He is a leader for the group. I’ve known him for a very long time so I’m happy to play with him. “
It’s a big challenge to bring Manchester United back to the top, but I feel like people want to win, people want to do great things with this club, and that’s a great motivation.
Varane is also a leader – albeit in a different way.
He is not an extrovert but is seen as an example to others and speaks with authority and intelligence. At 21, he became the youngest captain in the country’s history. “He’s really good in the locker room, which is very important in football,” Pogba said.
Varane’s influence is evident to those with whom he has played. But this is not someone looking for the spotlight. In Madrid, few players have contributed so much to the successes of the past decade and yet Varane’s name has rarely appeared in the headlines.
“I don’t play football for this focus,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “I just want to help the team and do my best. I want to improve myself and be who I am on the pitch. This is my goal and my mentality. “
There was therefore no complaint that his arrival at Manchester United was overshadowed by that of his former Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo on the last day of the transfer window.
I think he is the best example in the world in terms of a work ethic and a winning mentality.
The 36-year-old’s sensational return to Old Trafford made waves in the football world and, with three goals in his first two appearances, its impact was immediate.
Varane is delighted to be reunited after seeing first-hand the work that has extended his extraordinary career.
“I think he’s the best example in the world in terms of a work ethic and a winning mentality,” said Varane, who shared a dressing room with Ronaldo for seven seasons at Real Madrid.
“By playing with this type of player, we improve every day. If he’s still playing at such a high level at his age, it’s because his work is incredible. I am very happy to play with him. “
As Ronaldo returns to the Premier League, Varane experiences it for the first time. It is, he admits, an adjustment from what he had grown used to in La Liga.
“It’s different football,” he says with a smile. “It’s faster, you have more duels and the intensity is very high in each game. The pace on the pitch is different. You repeat a lot of runs and effort and you have to be ready because there is a lot of pressure. “
If the change of pace had surprised him, you wouldn’t know.
Varane couldn’t prevent United’s 2-1 defeat in their Champions League opener against Young Boys on Tuesday, but he impressed in his Premier League debut against Wolves and looked confident as well. against Newcastle last weekend.
“The atmosphere was special,” he says of the 4-1 win at Old Trafford. “It was absolutely amazing to hear the fans the whole game. There was a lot of positive energy and I think the team felt it. “
Varane’s impact may not be as obvious as Ronaldo’s, but he’s already been shown to change the way Manchester United defend themselves. He added some rhythm to a much needed baseline. Solskjaer’s team are therefore in a position to play higher on the pitch.
Air sports Expert Gary Neville underlined the importance of this last season, saying United need a defender “quick, good in the air, strong and able to cover Harry Maguire head-to-head”.
Varane offers these qualities in abundance, but he emphasizes that it will take time to strike a deal with Maguire like the one he shared with Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid.
“With Sergio Ramos, I had 10 years to get to know him, to know how he moves on the pitch and how I have to move to be complementary with him,” he said.
It’s different football. It’s faster, you have more duels and the intensity is very high in each match
“I think Harry Maguire is a great player but we have to work hard to feel comfortable on the pitch. It’s the same with all the defenders on the team. It’s important to feel connected. We need to move forward together and motivate each other.
“Every day we learn and improve. “
The same can be said of Varane’s language skills. It is indeed the way in which he embarks on this new challenge that he wanted to conduct this interview in English.
“It’s important to me,” he says. “I have to connect with my teammates, with the fans and with the country where I am. I see it as part of my experience, to come here, to learn and to improve myself. “
Even after all he’s accomplished in the game, Varane’s constant desire to learn and improve suggests the best is yet to come from him.
It’s a tantalizing thought for Manchester United. They had to be patient but Raphaël Varane is here now, his destiny finally fulfilled.
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