After a trophy-laden eight years in the Spanish capital, Raphael Varane could be on the verge of a Real Madrid exit.
The World Cup winner has won all Spanish football has to offer, including two La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey, as well as four Champions League trophies and a further three Super Cups.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise that Varane is reportedly tempted to seek a new challenge. At 25, he has won every major trophy in football, and now appears at a crossroads with his future an interesting source of debate.
Zinedine Zidane has recently been reappointed into the Real hot seat, looking to replicate the halcyon, unprecedented days of his previous tenure, while the club have begun their summer overhaul early, bolstering their ranks with the recruitment of promising Paulistano Eder Militao from Porto.
However, French publication L’Equipe say the combative centre-back is yearning to “challenge himself again” and seek a change of scenery, having etched his name in the marble halls of the Bernabeu.
And so, should Varane follow through and leave the comforts of the River Manzanares for pastures new, where could he end up?
If it is a new challenge Varane seeks, then where better to relocate than to the club who have fallen flat on their faces in the Champions League the previous seven seasons? The makers and shakers at the oil-rich club have done everything in their power to ensure European dominance, and yet the Parisians haven’t made it past the last 16 in three years.
Even the precocious coaching talents of Thomas Tuchel have failed to pay dividends this season with his players failing to truly assimilate his new ideas and eliminate Man Utd.
This presents Varane the perfect opportunity to return to his homeland and help the club clinch continental success. Having won Europe’s premier knockout tournament four times with Real, Varane has the requisite experience and nous to take the capital club to the next level.
A move to Le Parc des Princes would be a dream move for the 53-capped France international: returning to the country of his birth, leading one the nation’s biggest clubs, and potentially ending their Champions League drought, not to mention being remunerated handsomely in the process.
With Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini entering the twilight years of their respected careers, the Italian duo will unlikely go the full campaign unblemished next season; the former will be 32, while the latter will be 35 come the start of 2019/20.
And so Massimiliano Allegri may be tempted to pull out all the stops and plunder the mountainous defender from the Real ranks, adding some much-needed youth and vibrancy to his backline.
A move of this magnitude would evoke fond memories of compatriot Lilian Thuram’s famous move from Parma to the Old Lady in 2001. Varane could look to emulate his French predecessor and become a cult hero in the shadow of the Alps.
In fitting style, Varane became the first French defender to rank in the Ballon d’Or top 10 since Thuram (7th) and Marcel Desailly (10th) in 1998, and so, it could now be written in the stars for Varane to follow in those fabled footsteps and ply his trade in Italian football.
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Former manager Jose Mourinho made no secret of his desire to sign a centre-back last summer, but chief executive Ed Woodward reportedly refused to sanction the necessary funds, leading to a breakdown in relations, and the Portuguese’s eventual dismissal.
Well, fast forward to mid-March and the Red Devils still need a leading defensive figure, someone who can form the backbone of their defence; a player with virtuosic tackling skills and a capability of building from the back to monopolise possession – step up Varane.
The Frenchman had to chance to join the Old Trafford club in 2011 upon leaving boyhood club RC Lens, but opted for Real when United seemingly favoured a move for Phil Jones instead.
When asked in 2014 why he pitched up at Real instead of United, Varane stated: “Manchester United? They had just signed Phil Jones in my position.”
Interim coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may look to revisit United’s interest. He looks odds on to secure the job on a permanent basis after rejuvenating the club since December, and he will be keen to renovate his side over the summer, no matter the cost.
There have been discernible question marks over the capabilities of both Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren, while Joe Gomez continues his rehabilitation on the sidelines having missed the majority of the campaign through injury.
Well this could be the ideal scenario for Jurgen Klopp if Varane does become available, as he could form a formidable acquaintanceship with the ever-imperious Virgil van Dijk, and potentially create one of world football’s most iconic centre-back pairings.
The Varane-Sergio Ramos partnership has already written its name into football folklore, but if there is one pairing who could potentially surpass that dynamic duo, then it is certainly a Varane-Van Dijk one.
Klopp is a man who never prevaricates, he is open about the strengths and weaknesses of his sides; in the summer he needed a goalkeeper and a central midfield, and he got both in abundance. This summer he may need defensive reinforcements, and so will likely explore the market for one.
Having just capitulated against Liverpool in the Champions League and endured a somewhat tentative start under the tutelage of summer appointment Niko Kovac, the Bavarians will unquestionably undergo a summer repair of their own.
The club have already expressed an interest in utility defender Lucas Hernandez, while they have also been linked with the recently called-up German youngster Niklas Stark from Hertha Berlin.
Both would demand bumper transfer fees, but not on the scale of Varane who has been priced in the bracket of circa £100m; this would detract a number of potential suitors but Bayern have the funds, and Bayern need fresh impetus.
Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels have both suffered a number of injury problems this season, while both were axed from the German national team by Joachim Low. The Bavarians are renowned for possessing strong defenders on their books, and so, a move for Varane doesn’t quite seem out of the question.
Kovac is a man under pressure after Bayern’s European exit; a domestic double in Germany is par for the course for any Bayern manager, so a Bundesliga title and DFB-Pokal trophy would not alleviate the frustration of a Champions League humiliation – Kovac will need to strengthen.
The Gunners have been linked with Varane in the past due to the French connection between the defender and former manager Arsene Wenger, and it seems somewhat unfortunate that the season Wenger concludes his Arsenal dynasty, Varane potentially puts himself on the market.
That said, the Gunners still have a strong French contingent in their squad and a number of those players could look to get in the ear of their compatriot and sway his judgement.
With Laurent Koscielny entering his twilight years, Rob Holding sidelined through injury and Shkodran Mustafi still a bone of contention among the Arsenal faithful, a new centre-back may be sought after in the summer.
Unai Emery has overseen an encouraging start to his reign in north London, but he will be looking to take the next step with the club potentially about to reassert themselves in their once habitual Champions League seat.
Varane would be seen as a huge statement of intent from the Arsenal hierarchy: a marquee signing to lift the spirits and galvanise the troops. That said, their financial situation suggests statement signings will be off the table for some time.
There is something almost fairytale-esque about a player returning to their homeland a World Cup winner and becoming the leading figure at one of the nation’s biggest clubs.
Granted, the Parisians are not one of the great footballing aristocracies of European football, but they are certainly trying to put themselves on that esteemed map, and Varane could be a key component of that process.
He would become the chief policeman in a watertight defence, meanly locking up the back line and giving Gianluigi Buffon – should he be there next season – or Alphonse Areola the necessary protection.
He would also join the golden boy of French football Kylian Mbappe and footballing icon Neymar. The world-class triumvirate could help catapult PSG to European and domestic dominance for years to come.