Champions League winner. La Liga winner. World Cup winner. Real Madrid starter. Pretty decent centre-back. Raphaël Xavier Varane. We all know what the name Varane means. But what do you know about Raphaël, the 28-year-old man behind the numerous accolades?
Raphaël was born in Lille, France, on 25th April 1993, to Gaston & Annie Varane. He is of Martiniquais heritage through his father, and his mother is French. Fun fact, Martinique is a small island that is part of France’s Caribbean overseas territories, which is also the same island that Theirry Henry is from.
Raphaël was always encouraged to play football by his father, although he originally started out as a rugby player, but switched to football as a child when he didn’t enjoy it. His father said “I always taught Raphaël that he had to protect the ball, control it and improve his technique. Raphaël has always enjoyed training. I never had to force my boy to go to training. He loved to work hard. His strong point is concentration.”
At the age of seven, Raphaël signed for his first football club, AS Hellemmes, and after spending two years at that club, he them moved to his first professional club, RC Lens, in 2002. While playing for Lens as a youth academy player, he won the U16’s National Championships, and a year later was playing for the U19’s, despite being up to two years younger than his teammates in the U19 squad.
Becoming a Professional
Raphaël signed his first professional football contract ahead of the 2010/11 season, and was then promoted to Lens’ reserve team. He made his amateur debut for the team in a 2-0 victory, and from then on cemented his place in the reserve first team, appearing in their next nine fixtures, and only losing one game.
Raphaël eventually made his first appearance in professional football at age 17, on 6th November 2010. Due to an injury to teammate Alaeddine Yahia, he started (much to the surprise of many fans) against Montpellier, and he played the full 90 minutes in a 2-0 victory for Lens, keeping what was only their third clean sheet of the season so far. After the match, he was raved about by fans and local media alike, the first time anyone had seen the future World Champion play. From this point forwards, Raphaël was seen as a definite squad player for RC Lens until their relegation in 2011.
When Zinedine Zidane called Raphaël about Real Madrid’s interest in signing him in June 2011, he asked Zidane to call him back because he was in the middle of studying for his baccalaureate exam. On this, Raphaël said “It was weird, I couldn’t event believe it. Zizou asked me if I was interested, I said I was concentrating on my exams and we should talk again when they finish.”
Joining Real Madrid
Raphaël eventually signed for Los Blancos on the 27th of that same month, on a six-year contract and for a transfer fee of around €10m. He played in seven of the club’s eight pre-season fixtures that summer, and earned his first professional game for Real Madrid, starting in their La Liga fixture against Racing de Santander; and just like at Lens, he played the full match and kept a clean sheet on his debut. He then scored his first goal for the club three days later, in a 6-2 victory over Rayo Vallecano, and in the process became the youngest ever foreign player to score in a competitive match for Real Madrid, at age 18 years and 152 days.
In the 2012/13 season, Varane continued to catch people’s eye. Former French World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu said about him “We are talking about a kid at Real Madrid who has unseated Pepe, and Pepe, with all his stuff, is still a great centre-half. His performance against Manchester United and Barcelona was extraordinary.”
He definitely has a fiery streak within him. During the 2013/14 Champions League Final, in which he played all 120 minutes and Real Madrid won against local rivals Atletico Madrid, he decided to launch a ball towards Atleti manager Diogo Simeone, causing the volatile Argentinian to run on to the pitch in anger. Simeone is quite famously not a man you ever want to cross paths with, so you must have a lot of confidence in yourself if you want to kick a ball at him just after he’s lost a Champions League Final…
Raphaël is not just a man with a fiery streak, he is also a model professional. A man who can admit his mistakes will always be wiser for it, and this was shown very eloquently by the Frenchman during the 2019/20 season when Real Madrid were knocked out of the Champions League by Manchester City in the round of 16, losing 2-1 in Manchester. He was blamed for both goals, and after the game he said to reporters “This defeat is mine, I have to accept it. I am responsible for this defeat. We had prepared well but you pay for your mistakes. I am sad for my team-mates.”
Back to the football world, Varane is impressive. He has played 363 professional appearances to date, a total of 30,288 minutes, which compiles to 336.5 90s. Scoring a total of 17 career goals and providing six assists, it would not be far fetched to assume to that Varane will pop up on the score sheet once or twice a season.
Varane made 25 tackles and 36 interceptions in the league last season in 30.2 90s, (as per fbref), but what is interesting about this statistic is not how many, but where he made them. Out of these 25 tackles, 7 of them were actually in the middle 3rd of the pitch (around the centre line), which is a definite sign that Varane is not afraid to put an early tackle in when necessary. This is not too dissimilar to Harry Maguire, who made 30 tackles last season in 33.9 90s, with 10 of these tackles coming in the middle 3rd of the pitch.
This is a good indication that although these numbers aren’t the highest in terms of raw “who’s made the most tackles”, the fact that a fair number of them are high up on the pitch shows that when he does make an interception or tackle, he often reads the game well.
The quantity of his tackles and interceptions compared to others can be attributed towards his style of play, as well as for the club he plays for. Real Madrid are a very dominant side, so therefore on pure numbers they will always be lower, but also because his play style is partially based off looking to cover for his partner, preivously Sergio Ramos and now Harry Maguire.Embed from Getty Images
These are not one-off statistics for Varane. In the last three league seasons, he has made 8 out of 35 tackles in the middle 3rd (2018/19), 9 out of 33 tackles in the middle 3rd (2019/20) and 7 tackles in the middle 3rd (2020/21).
Last season in the league, Varane attempted 1743 passes in 30.2 90s, with a success rate of 91.1%; a stellar record. Although this is impressive enough in itself, what really grabs statistical attention is how often he uses either foot to pass. Out of these 1743 passes, 940 were attempted with his right (stronger) foot, and 692 were attempted with his left (weaker) foot. This means that on average, just under 40% of passes Varane attempts are with his weaker foot, and to maintain a 91.1% passing accuracy while using your weaker foot that often is an impressive feat indeed.
Varane is not too much of a progressive passer compared to other elite centre-backs, however this should not be too much of an issue playing alongside Maguire. Aside from this, his ability to play comfortably with both feet will be a huge benefit for United though, as it opening up new passing avenues to help build from the back in a more expansive and unpredictable fashion.
Overall, Raphaël Varane is someone who truly deserves the title “model professional”. He is a man you will never see ugly rumours about, a man who is committed to a cause and, most importantly, is a man who will not cause issues. This is evident with respect to his conduct this transfer window, especially towards Real Madrid.
Reports claim that Varane wanted to move and find a new challenge as early as last summer, but he never complained or caused and trouble in Madrid, and that is a sign of a man who knows how to compose himself, understand others around him and truly care about the club he plays for – something that has gone amiss among certain United players throughout the last decade.
And to add to this, he’s also a pretty decent football player.