When you think of the best young defenders in the world today, you would be foolish not to include Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane in any list you find yourself drawing up.
Los Blancos swooped for Varane in the summer of 2011, paying around £9 million to RC Lens for the services of the French international following some encouraging words about his potential from Zinedine Zidane.
According to The Guardian’s Sid Lowe, Zidane told Madrid president Florentino Perez that the then 18-year-old “would be the finest French centre-back since Laurent Blanc.”
Zidane was not the only one glowing with positivity about the young Varane.
Lens president Gervais Martel told reporters (h/t CNN) upon Varane’s sale that he was “a phenomenon,” adding that “Raphael is an exceptional boy, and I am proud that he is going to don the Real colours.”
And in 2013, and all that praise has been justified, despite a recent succession of injuries, with Varane’s reputation experiencing a rapid rise after his debut Clasico performance against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey in January.
He’d started the season, possibly, as low as fifth choice centre-back behind Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Raul Albiol and Ricardo Carvalho, but after that Barca performance, which included the equalising goal, he soon became second, if not first, choice.
Almost 12 months later, and Raphael Varane is listed alongside the likes of PSG’s Marquinhos and Manchester City’s Matija Nastasic as the best young central defenders in football.
However, having reached the summit, the last few months have seen some testing times for the 20-year-old, as he’s struggled to maintain his fitness and, as a result, has been restricted to just six appearances this season.
It’s led to some sections of the Spanish press questioning whether his rise at the Bernabeu has been a case of too much, too soon—something he strongly disputed when talking to AS recently (h/t Goal.com):
“No, I did not sign too soon, I was ready to play for Madrid. It took me a year to adjust, get my bearings and get used to the club in general. Last season, everything went so well, so from now on, it should get even better.”
Of course, there should not really be any doubts over whether Varane made the right choice when he opted to move to Madrid.
He’s at one of the biggest clubs in the world—some might even say the biggest—and he has found opportunities to grow as a player easier to come by in the past year, allowing him to at last begin to show just how good he is.
Admittedly, there are players who have seen their careers stall at the Bernabeu—Sergio Canales, Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon to name just three—but Varane is assured enough, good enough and big enough to cope with the expectations that go with being a Real Madrid player.
And while it should be obvious that his move to Madrid was the right one, so to should be the fact that his future should continue to be in the Spanish capital.
France Football (h/t Marca) have suggested that PSG will pull out all the stops to bring Varane back to France in the summer—all those stops will likely involve an extortionate sum of money, though, and even that might not be enough to lure the 20-year-old.