Sir Alex Ferguson had a near miss on signing Varane from Lens in 2011, when the France international was just 18 years old
It would not be entirely correct to say that Raphael Varane has made a good first impression since he started training at Carrington this week. The thing with first impressions, famously, is that you only ever get to make one, and this is a player who many at Manchester United have watched, monitored and admired from a distance for a decade or more now.
Rarely has a new signing made such an impression on so many at Carrington and Old Trafford before he has walked through the door. Ed Woodward, no less, has long hoped to bring Varane to Manchester. This week was a first chance for United to see him up close, though, and it has only confirmed the belief held by many at the club that they have secured a defender of the highest calibre.
At his pre-match press conference before Sunday’s trip to Southampton, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke about Varane as if this was a love story 10 years in the making. “We’ve managed to convince him to try and have the feeling for Man United,” he said. “I think that’s been in his heart ever since he went to Real Madrid, as well. He had a little bit of a feeling for Man United, and we’ve definitely had feelings for him for many years.”
Solskjaer recalled United’s near miss on signing Varane from Lens in 2011, when the France international was just 18 years old. “It’s no secret we were close when he left to Real Madrid 10 years ago, Sir Alex [Ferguson] was there speaking to him and we were close. Ever since, his performances on the pitch, his demeanour and behaviour off the pitch tells me that’s a Man United player.”
And having spent a few days working alongside Varane, now that the £41m deal’s visa applications, quarantine periods and reams of paperwork have all been completed, he is unable to find fault in his new signing. “He’s been humble, he’s been inquisitive, he asks questions. He doesn’t want to learn by a mistake in the game, he wants to learn on the training field before he comes on the pitch. Everything about him has been impressive.
“The Champions League wins, the World Cup win, everything about him is class. He’s a defender who is quick, strong, good in the air, he can play with both feet.” Solskjaer could have spoke for hours but instead chose to sum up. “The short answer is everything about him is what you want.” And as he suggests, United’s long-held love for Varane has not gone unrequited.
His camp’s decision last autumn to link up with CAA Base, one of English football’s leading agencies, hinted that a move to the Premier League could be on the cards. United emerged at the front of the queue and Varane was more than interested to hear their offer. There was still a sense of unfinished business from that near miss, when Ferguson visited his mother’s home to talk up a move but would leave empty-handed.
And, if there was still any part of Varane which needed convincing this was the right move for him, then his unveiling last weekend in front of a capacity crowd at Old Trafford before the 5-1 win over Leeds should have eased any doubts. It was a special way to announce a new signing, designed and reserved for a player who United have considered special for many, many years.
And so after the introduction, the debut. Solskjaer was predictably reluctant to say whether Varane would be involved at St Mary’s, nor would he confirm whether his fellow new arrival Jadon Sancho is in line for a first start. “You’ll see on Sunday. They’ve worked well, they’ve had minutes, we’ve had a very good week ourselves. Let’s see who’s making the flight down to Southampton.”
It will be no surprise if he shows caution with Varane for now. United’s new signing played no part in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Burnley earlier this week, which came just a day after he first joined training. His last minutes of any kind came almost two months ago with France’s shock European Championship quarter-final defeat to Switzerland. A first glimpse may come on Sunday or United supporters eager to see him play may have to wait a moment.
Yet in every other sense, their club has signed a player for the here and now. Varane is a 28-year-old with four Champions League title, a World Cup and 18 winners medals in total, who has every chance of still being one of the world’s leading centre-backs when his Old Trafford contract expires in four years’ time. His move to United is a love story a long time in the making and together, they are about to write the opening chapter.
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