Pepe’s injury at this time of the season, with Sergio Ramos suspended for five matches, may seem like a daunting prospect for Real Madrid.
However, it may be just what was needed for Raphaël Varane to prove he has the stature of a Real Madrid player.
Mourinho is reportedly unhappy with Pepe for having delayed the operation he had to undergo until after the festive break (via Marca). So if Varane effectively steps in for the Portuguese, Pepe might find it harder than expected to recover his place in the starting XI.
Having arrived from Lens in 2010, the current state of Madrid’s defence, plagued by key absences, will be his first chance to consistently start games for José Mourinho’s side.
After his signing from Lens for a reported $14 million, the hype around the new defender grew considerably, and lofty comparisons started to be heard (via CNN).
In 2011, World Cup winner and current coach of the French national side Didier Deschamps did not hold back his praise for the young defender, comparing him to another French legend, Laurent Blanc (via Goal.com):
“For now, he is still a kid. But I think when he reaches maturity at 26-27 he will be better than Blanc."
Varane showed some encouraging signs in his first few games for Los Blancos, even showing some attacking flair by scoring an incredible back-heeled goal in his second start for the club (watch it here).
That goal against city-rivals Rayo Vallecano also meant that the 18-year-old became the youngest foreign player to score for Real Madrid in a competitive match.
Despite this promising start to his career in Madrid’s white, Varane’s participation in Madrid’s conquest of the title was peripheral. In the 2011-12, he only had nine appearances in La Liga.
With the start of the 2012-13 season, it was thought that he would have a bigger involvement in Mourinho’s team. He switched from the No. 19 shirt to the No. 2, previously worn by Madrid legends of the likes of Michel Salgado.
However, once again his role has been relatively secondary. He has only started six games in La Liga, although he's figuring more regularly in Europe. Pepe’s injury and Ramos’ suspension mean this is the best time for Varane to show that he can live up to expectations, but the question remains: Will he seize his chance?