Raphael Varane Jersey

Raphael Varane is already one of the greats

Real Madrid center back Raphael Varane may sometimes be in the shadow of captain Sergio Ramos when the spotlight is flashed on Los Blancos’ back four, but the France international is unmistakably a living legend in his own right.

Raphael Varane found the back of the net again in Real Madrid’s Copa del Rey Round of 16 blowout win over Real Zaragoza, scoring a clean-up goal with the positional awareness and calmness that would have made a seasoned striker proud.

But Varane is no striker. He may have the confidence on the ball of one, but Varane is a defender through and through. With his commanding but tranquil demeanor, calculated movements, effortless closing speed, steely nerves, and teasing passing, Varane is one of the most complete center backs in world football.

Although Varane is 26, he’s already been at this level for years.

Varane joined Real Madrid in 2011 from RC Lens for mere 10 million euros. By 2014-2015, he was playing at least 2,000 minutes in a single La Liga season for Los Blancos. Since then, he has become France captain, won a World Cup Final, and held the Champions League trophy three times.

It’s often said that the hallmark of a great defender lies in their anonymity. The logic is that whereas you want to hear about attacking midfielders springing killer passes, forward, banging home goals, and wingers putting defenders on skates, you’d prefer not to hear your center back’s name on the broadcast. Because that means they probably made a massive error.

While lauded players like Sergio Ramos and, most recently, Ballon d’Or candidate Virgil van Dijk have turned this logic on its head, Varane is still the epitome of the overlooked center back. This season, if he isn’t scoring a goal – and he already has three in all competitions – he’s often a mere footnote.

Part of that may be because of the legend of Ramos, who is probably the best all-around defender of his generation as a world-class right back and then center back.

But when looking at what Varane has accomplished at the age of 26, it’s clear that he’s just as much of a legend.

Van Dijk’s 2019 was legendary and deserved Ballon d’Or love, but it’s often surprising that Varane’s 2018 didn’t get nearly as much attention. That’s not to say Varane, as an individual, was as good as van Dijk. But it’s interesting that he received disproportionately fewer Ballon d’Or claims. He won the World Cup and the Champions League, was named in the FIFPro World 11 for the first time in his career, the Champions League Squad of the Season, and would have won more awards if voters weren’t picking his teammate Ramos over him.

Ramos scores more goals and is the more dynamic of the two, regularly aggressively attacking the attackers themselves. His speed, strength, tenacity, experience, and anticipation make him perfectly suited for this role.

While Varane would have all the qualities to do this, too, Ramos’ presence means that Varane must play an equally important, but less glamorous role, as the man who indeed sweeps up the messes. He’s entrusted with providing timely clearances, quick outlet passes to stop counterattacks, confident dribbles out of danger, and the type of subtle reading of the game and speedy covering necessary from the “last man standing”.

Therefore, it’s entirely simple for observers to gloss over Raphael Varane. He plays on a wonderful team that is usually stocked with world-class attackers and midfielders, and they just happen to have one of the most gifted defenders of our era playing next to him.

Varane is, likewise, one of the most gifted defenders of our era. It’s time to appreciate the fact that he’s already “Great” with a capital “G” on an all-time scale, given his accomplishments thus far. A leader with tactical, technical, and emotional qualities that surpass what most could achieve in an entire career, Varane is already a near-perfect center back at the age of 26.

And he isn’t done racking up trophies and individual awards yet. If everything works out in 2020, Varane can add a fourth Champions League title, a third La Liga trophy, a second Copa del Rey, and the European Title-winning performance that evaded him (injury) in 2016.

Authentic Raphael Varane Jersey

Arsenal are being linked with a move for 18-year-old defender William Saliba. He is dubbed as the ‘next Raphael Varane’, which sounds quite alright to me.

We really are beginning to hit the silly season. The summer transfer window is looming, the gaze of fans and media alike has shifted towards the assembling of teams, and the rumours are starting to flow in. Predictably, Arsenal are at the centre of it all, as they so often are.
Find the latest episode of the Pain in the Arsenal Podcast here — Death, Decay, Despair

The latest name to be linked with a move to north London is Saint-Etienne defender William Saliba — his full name is actually William Alain Andre Gabriel Saliba, for those so inclined to know.

I know nothing about Saliba other than what a quick Google search can tell you. And I am not going to try and pretend that I do, as I am sure plenty of other fans and ‘analysts’ might. There is a nice rundown from football.london, which you can check out here, and that does give plenty of the basic details, as well as some interesting quotes from some rather significant figures regarding his qualities, including one Jose Mourinho, who stated that he has all the tools to succeed at the top level.

One thing that seems consistent with a description of Saliba is that he has regularly been labelled as the ‘next Raphael Varane’. Labelling an 18-year-old as the next version of arguably the best centre-half in world football is bold, to say the least. But as someone who has never seen him kick a football, that sounds quite alright to me.

I have previously expressed slight hesitation with Arsenal investing in the centre-back position. It is a need and I understand that improving the position, at some point during the Unai Emery rebuild, is essential, but I feel that there are other positions that should be prioritised this summer, which is especially true given the limited budget.

That said, if they are to sign a player who they believe could develop into one of the best central defenders in the world, which is seemingly the case with Saliba, I am all for it. Positional value is important. Spending £35 million on another centre-forward would not make all that much sense. But at some point, the value of the signing comes purely from the quality of the player, and not the position that they play.

I have no idea if Saliba is as good as advertised. And even if I had watched him play, there are plenty of smarter people than me who would be able to give you a more accurate assessment of his qualities and potential. But if Emery and Arsenal believe him to be ‘special’, they should be looking to sign him.

Special talents do not come around all that often. Sometimes, you just have to pull the trigger. If Saliba is really special, then, and the ‘next Varane’ as many claim him to be, Arsenal should be chasing him. Hard.