With the news that Manchester United have agreed a deal in principle for Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, one might be tempted to suggest this is a player, having won it all in Spain, looking for his last huge contract.

On the surface you could be forgiven for such an assertion. Why, after all, would a World Cup and four-time Champions League winner move to a club that hasn’t won a league title in eight years, or indeed any trophy in four?

Progress at United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is seemingly in the eye of the beholder. The fanbase is somewhat split, fractured between those who see noticeable advancement in the playing squad and club culture, and those who desire tangible results, i.e. trophies.

Regardless of which camp you fall in to, there’s no doubt that a second-place Premier League (United 8/1 to win Premier League) finish last term and a return to regular Champions League football (United 14/1 to win Champions League) has had an impact on the ‘pull’ of the club, when it comes to incoming players.

But this one is different, a transfer that is increasingly rare in today’s game. Varane wanted Manchester United, and only Manchester United. It’s been said he wouldn’t leave Madrid for anywhere but Old Trafford – why?

To truly understand we have to take a trip back in time to 2011, when Varane, still a teenager, was in the cross-hairs of Sir Alex Ferguson. The legendary manager described the situation in his autobiography:

“In 2011, I hurtled down on the train from Euston to Lille to sign the young French defender Raphael Varane. David Gill was getting into the finer points of the contract with Lens, Varane’s club, when Zinedine Zidane got wind of this and somehow scooped him up for Real Madrid from under our noses.

“I don’t think Jose Mourinho, who was managing Real Madrid, had even seen Varane play.”

It’s not often, especially in that era, that a personal intervention from Sir Alex didn’t produce the goods, but this was a 17-year-old Frenchman, starry-eyed in the presence of a national icon in Zidane.

However, there was always a feeling from United that had it not been for Zizou, Varane would have jumped at the chance to come to Manchester.

It’s widely thought that his footballing role-model was Rio Ferdinand, with the former England international even saying he had reached out to the 28-year-old in the run up to this transfer via text, with the aim of convincing him to make the move. In true 2021 fashion, the French centre-back reportedly responded only with the ‘eyes emoji’.

United had tried in the past for Varane during his Real spell, notably during Jose Mourinho’s tenure at Old Trafford, but the interest proved fruitless for a club, at the time, sorely lacking in direction.

It can’t be said that ‘Champions League Varane’ (as christened by French teammate Paul Pogba) would ever regret his move to Madrid – how could he with that trophy haul? But there was always clearly a feeling of ‘what if’, of an experience not had, not just in Manchester, but in the Premier League.

This is a different United, a new incarnation. The waters are choppier, the pressure to immediately deliver higher, but finally, Raphael Varane gets his wish.

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