If Raphael Varane celebrated 10 years as a Real Madrid player on Sunday, the Frenchman had little to mark the very next day as his national team were dumped out of Euro 2020. The 28-year-old, who looked shaky in the defeat to Switzerland, won’t escape the inquest over what went wrong for France at the tournament.
This followed a less-than-stellar season for Varane at club level. Indeed, Real Madrid endured a difficult 2020/21 campaign and the French defender was among those who failed to find top form. Long seen as one of the best in his position, Varane has faced some unfamiliar scrutiny recently.
It just so happens Varane is approaching a crossroads in his career with the 28-year-old entering the final year of his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu. Talks over an extension have reportedly stalled with Chelsea and Manchester United apparently interested in a €45m deal.
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For a player of such pedigree and natural ability, this would be well below market value. Varane might have lost his way somewhat, but he remains an elite level performer. It was only 12 months ago or so that he was being talked about as the best central defender in the game alongside Virgil van Dijk.
Varane could use a change of scenery, whether that’s to the Premier League or somewhere else, to re-energise himself. Not only has he won all there is to win in the Spanish capital, Real Madrid are on the brink of a generational transition that could see Varane lose the best years of his career to a rebuild.
Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
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Sergio Ramos, Varane’s centre back partner for the best part of the last decade, has already departed the club with Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, the three players who form the spine of Real Madrid’s team in midfield and attack, well into their 30s. Los Blancos suffered a drop-off after the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo three years ago, but that’s nothing compared to what’s looming on the horizon.
David Alaba has been secured as a free agent, but Real Madrid need more than just a versatile, possession-hungry defender to indicate what their vision for the future is. This is a club that hasn’t spent a penny in the transfer market for two years. If they have a vision, it’s on hold.
This is before Zinedine Zidane’s exit at the end of last season is even mentioned. Varane’s countryman had a knack for squeezing the most out of his ageing core, but it’s not yet known whether his successor Carlo Ancelotti, an uninspired and unimaginative appointment in the eyes of many, will be able to do the same.
Raphaël Varane et Toni Kroos face à Alavés
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The best players recognise when the time is right to move on and Varane would be wise to make a switch to a club that doesn’t have the issues Real Madrid are facing both on and off the pitch. At Chelsea, for instance, the Frenchman would slot into a system and a structure that delivered Champions League glory only a few weeks ago.
Many suspect Varane is simply using interest from the Premier League to strengthen his hand in negotiations with Real Madrid over a new contract. This is something Ramos did to great effect a number of times and so it’s possible the Frenchman has learned a lesson from his former central defensive partner.
A new Real Madrid contract might not be what Varane needs at this stage of his career, though. The 28-year-old has the technical and physical qualities to succeed in any league, including the Premier League, but does he have the awareness to recognise what is unfolding at the Santiago Bernabeu and how he would be wise to avoid it?
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