It’s been over 10 years since Real Madrid have been crowned kings of Europe; this maybe doesn’t sound a lot to some, but this club demand and expect European success. Their 7th, 8th and 8th European titles came over a six-year period but it’s been a frustrating wait for the Los Blancos’ fans, who crave that 10th title so badly.
Raphael Varane would have been 10-years-old when Los Merengues last won the UEFA Champions League. There have been some of the world’s best players don the famous white shirt since the last European success, but perhaps the failure to replace central defender Fernando Hierro, who was an integral part in those three European successes over six years, appears to hurt Madrid’s recent European campaigns.
Hierro is a Madrid legend. He was the commanding figure in defence who ensured the attacking flair players could fulfil the clubs philosophy demands and play freely, while he would organise and lead the back line. In his time at the club between 1989 and 2003 he played over 400 games and a major part in the club lifting five La Liga titles and three European cups.
Since Hierro’s departure the club have tried and failed to find another player who possessed such mental and technical qualities. Expensive purchases have been made on Ricardo Carvalho, Sergio Ramos and Pepe; all very good ball playing defenders but all prone to concentration lapses and perhaps would benefit from a commanding centre half beside them. Step forward Raphael Varane.
The Frenchman is only 19-years-old; as a young boy he progressed through the Lens youth academy and made his competitive debut for the club when only 17. After some excellent mature performances for such a young player he attracted the attention of many top clubs. He chose arguably the biggest club in the world to provide his next challenge. He signed for Real Madrid for €10million in 2011, turning down Manchester United, and quickly made his debut in the first team in his debut season. However this season has really seen Varane show his value and perhaps Mourinho’s recent selections suggest he may be first-choice centre half for the remainder of the season and long-term future.
So early in his career Varane has already shown real quality and Mourinho already has put faith in his ability by selecting him in all Madrid’s crucial European and domestic matches this season, while expensive more experienced players watch from the bench. He is quick, strong, good in the air, can read the game, a clean tackler; all the attributes required to be a top centre half. He is the one clearing up from whenever his defensive partners have made errors. Dare I say it, he reminds me of Fernando Hierro.
This season Madrid’s defensive set up seems a lot more solid with Varane in the team. Diego Lopez has established himself as number 1 after Iker Casillas’ fall out with Mourinho. Ramos can now attack the ball as he likes to do knowing that Varane will be covering behind him. In front Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira protect the defence and break up the attacks whenever possible and cover for the full backs, who Mourinho likes to push forward. Then it’s up for the attacking four (whoever selected) to show their flair and creativity.
At the moment Varane’s name on the team sheet might not strike fear into the opposition the way Cristiano Ronaldo or Mesut Ozil would, however he may be a major contributor to Los Blancos finally lifting their 10th European Cup, be it this season or in the very near future.
By Sandy White