“Champions League Varane.” That was the ironic moniker placed upon Raphael Varane upon his arrival to Old Trafford, such is the pedigree of the defender who most Manchester United fans would have seen from his performances in the UEFA Champions League for Real Madrid.
For most of Varane’s United career since, most would argue that it has been largely solid, if somewhat unspectacular. For his debut, 2021-22 season, he played a total of 29 matches across all competitions, which was the lowest number of appearances that he made since the 2013-14 season.
United fared poorly that season finishing 6th in the league and Varane himself had few performances that caught the eyes of the Old Trafford faithful who watched in gleeful delight at his unveiling on opening day against Leeds United in August 2021.
The following season heralded the arrival of Erik Ten Hag from Ajax who brought with him his trusted lieutenant and defensive enforcer Lisandro Martinez whose left footed ball playing abilities offered the balance that Ten Hag sought in his centre back partnerships. The Dutch manager firmly believes that it is preferable to play a left footed centre back on the left and a right footed centre back on the right side as this offers more fluidity to their tackling and also passing angles out of defence.
With Martinez occupying the left side, Varane operated on the right and under this system, the United defence flourished propelling the Red Devils to a third place league finish and a League Cup win. This would be the first season for the Red Devils where they finished in the Top 4 and won silverware in the same campaign since 2013.
However, due to a combination of an untimely injury and the renaissance in form of Harry Maguire this season, Varane has found himself on the outer shell of the team as the right centre-back slot is locked down by Maguire based on form in Ten Hag’s eyes whilst Ten Hag also deems Varane a weaker option on the left side than Lindelof or Evans. The impending return of Luke Shaw is certainly handy for Ten Hag if he wishes to deploy him there as he did prominently last season and against City earlier this year in United’s win at Old Trafford.
Losing your position to a player who was roundly criticised and ridiculed, to perhaps an unfair level, and also to a 35 year old veteran bought in on a free transfer is enough to dent the ego of any footballer and it has come as no surprise that rumours have swirled this week around the reported interest in Varane from Bayern Munich.
So what next for Raphael Varane? If the World Cup winner is to leave in January or this summer, we examine two players who could potentially replace him.