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Thursday January 31 2013
Madrid’s young hero, Varane

In a game that demonstrated two different footballing philosophies, only one man captivated the audience. Mina Rzouki investigates Raphael Varane.

“Some believe [Raphael] Varane won’t play but he’s not going to Madrid to paint the locker rooms,” explained Lens President Gervais Martel. On Wednesday night, Varane not only played for Madrid but he played against Barcelona, illuminating the pitch with his confident display.

Boasting blistering pace, the Clasico virgin took his place at centre-back and imposed his quiet authority to muzzle Barcelona’s potent attack-line. Tackling was always thought of as the one area in which Varane did not excel. However, two clean tackles on the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi not only rescued Madrid but they demonstrated the player’s quick development into a key figure at the club.

His quick thinking, correct decision making, perfect positioning and impressive physique made him stand out but there is nothing more special about Varane than his ability to stay calm. In a highly charged game against the best team in the world, the youngster displayed tranquillity and atoned for the mistakes of his more panicked teammates. A terrible Ricardo Carvalho back pass very nearly permitted Xavi Hernandez to score and it took a goal line clearance from an astute Varane to save Los Blancos’ blushes. 

A childhood dedicated to the formation of his career, Lens fought off stiff competition, notably from Lille to capture the youngster. Forced to separate from his parents at an early age, he developed his skills at the Centre de Preformation de Football. The Frenchman was initially played as defensive midfielder but his sensible and calm approach to the game made him an instant success in the centre-back role. 

His physique is what first catches the eye, tall and athletic, his elegant play and swiftness of movement were beguiling and were the reason for interest from the top clubs in the world. Yet when he arrived at Real Madrid for a reported €10m fee, his doubters made themselves heard. “A signing to satisfy Zinedine Zidane and make him feel like his opinions count,” announced El Mundo Deportivo.

Real Madrid could not promise regularity but they did promise progression and the opportunity to develop alongside the best players in the world. Varane himself credits Jose Mourinho with understanding him and knowing best how to complete his qualities.

Whenever called upon, the Frenchman has performed, repaying Mourinho’s faith in him. Impressive against Mallorca, he was far and away the best Real Madrid defender that night. Clearing the ball and winning offsides, he’s especially attentive to crosses and deals with the pressure with serenity. His performances against Osasuna grabbed the headlines once again as he remained focused for the entirety of the match to ensure a clean sheet.

However, there’s no greater challenge than that of facing Barcelona in a Clasico. Representing the team’s philosophy, he ensured safety at the back to encourage attacking play. His successful aerial duels secured his team’s success in the air despite Barcelona’s strength on the ground. He was Real Madrid’s best player and he provided the performance necessary to unite a separated group.

At the end of the match, media outlets wrote that in those 90 minutes, Varane developed into a man. But for the youngster who boasts a veteran’s mind, the question is, was he ever just a boy?

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