Proceed with caution, that is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s approach when it comes to Man United’s attempt to sign Raphael Varane. Players like Raphael Varane are rare and signing someone of that quality takes a whole lot of courage and money but needs to be matched by luck.
The attitude of Solskjaer and the Red Devils as they tiptoe towards a deal for Real Madrid’s World Cup-winning defender is to be expected; they’re scared of getting burnt, six years after failing to lure his centre back partner Sergio Ramos to Old Trafford.
The situations are eerily similar. Ramos, at his peak in 2015, was running down his contract at the Santiago Bernabéu, just as Varane is now. Louis van Gaal was manager and Manchester United came to the table and talked. Progress was made and, against all odds, belief began to grow that they might actually capture a player who would instantly turn the outlook of the club on its head.
That progress was ahead of public opinion and momentum over the deal never truly got up to speed. There was always a nagging feeling that Ramos was using United to leverage a better contract in Madrid, where the club was enjoying their most successful modern era. That transpired, and the Spaniard went onto captain three more successful Champions League campaigns. The deal he signed was after extended and only ran out this past summer.
Ironically, Solskjaer is chasing Raphael Varane at the same time as Ramos actually stepped through the Madrid exit door but it was his desire to push through a move to Paris Saint-Germain which may shed some light on why Man United are on much more serious ground here. In the midst of a transition themselves at the time, it always seemed a tall order to prise the captain of the best team in the world at that time, as Madrid would lay claim to be, away from such a positive environment. It was a choice between continuing to win in Spain or commit his best years to improving the chance of winning at an unspecified point in Manchester; a no-brainer, really.
But, as Ramos’ own departure testified, Madrid are not the force of old. It could even be said they are going through a similar transition and crisis of identity as United were. There are arguably more reasons to leave than stay, despite the return of Carlo Ancelotti, who ended Madrid’s 12-year wait for a European title in 2014 with the help of both Ramos and Varane.
For their part, the 20-time English champions are in a much better place themselves. After Harry Maguire’s superb comeback from injury and performance at Euro 2020 alongside a more composed and improved John Stones, there is ample reason to suggest he would thrive at Man United alongside a competent, leader-type defender like the Raphael Varane.
Maguire joined United from Leicester City six months after Virgil van Dijk moved to Liverpool. He did so costing more money and, because of that, has always been compared to the Dutchman, often unfavourably. While van Dijk instantly clicked things into place at Anfield, that hasn’t happened for Maguire at United. With that said, his performances have definitely improved over time and most of the defensive criticism can be levelled at his partners, most notably Victor Lindelof.
Perhaps it is time to take a different view of Maguire’s role and, in the context of a move for Varane, that would become much clearer. Any argument for the 28-year-old Frenchman being on van Dijk’s level is much more convincing than those for Maguire and taking the pressure off him by introducing Raphael Varane would surely help him thrive at Man United.
In that sense, Varane would be a more worthy final piece of the jigsaw than Maguire, or even Ramos six years ago, ever was. Solskjaer’s is a team waiting desperately to make that defensive upgrade and he would slot in like a cold hand in a warm glove on a winter’s day.
It would be incredibly harsh to suggest United did not deserve second place in the Premier League last season but the fact they achieved it was no true reflection of their title credentials. Manchester City were on a different planet to everyone, principally because they built from a strong base created by Ruben Dias, another defender who has been able to transform his team in the van Dijk mould, something Maguire has not yet managed to do.
Van Dijk’s injury hampered Liverpool badly lat season but now he is back and the likelihood is that, after a season away from the title race, they will be too. Chelsea are European champions and can’t be counted out either. Nobody can stand still at Old Trafford, they must find another level.
The impending arrival of Jadon Sancho offers another arrow to their already impressive attacking quiver but Raphael Varane would offer Man United exactly what they need. Trepidation is a just cause for United here, they’ve been burned by the tempestuous nature of these deals before. Madrid have offered him terms but knowing he can walk away for free next summer weakens their case incredibly, while PSG are looking to reunite him quickly with Ramos.
But if United are wondering why they still seem stuck in the mud and struggling to lift their heavy, anchored feet towards the promised land of titles and medals despite all their recent progress, they need only look at their soft centre. Liverpool don’t have that and neither do City. If Raphael Varane is available, Msn United need to get him. In fact, as far as their Premier League dreams go for next season, it may well be sign or bust.
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