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The Understated Excellence of Raphaël Varane

Few in modern-day football are like Varane. The French center-back has been a dominant force.

France v Croatia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Final Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

With just over 40 minutes remaining in the World Cup final, Ivan Perisic desperately chased down a perfectly-played long-ball. Croatia had opened the second half firing on all cylinders, and had continuously put the French team in precarious positions. Just before Preisic was able to get a touch on the ball, however, Raphaël Varane made a crucial intervention, and stuck his leg up out of seemingly nowhere to prevent the massive chance.

If Varane had been a step slower, or had gotten the challenge wrong, the entire complexion of the Final changes, and the score is probably tied at two goals apiece. It was an interception that required immediate action and precision, and one that the French defender got spot on. The French team was built on defending at a high level, and no player assisted in making that approach effective more than Raphaël Varane.

For many, this World Cup was an introduction to Varane’s brilliance. However, for Real Madrid supporters, this was merely par for the course. The World Cup was nowhere near the talented defender’s introduction to the big stage — as he was possibly even the best and most consistent defender for a historic, Champions League Madrid dynasty. Strangely, a portion of more casual football fans don’t even know his name, while an even smaller portion know where he ranks among the world’s elite. Such is the understated nature of Raphaël Varane, and the way he approaches not only Football, but life.

Even a quick scroll through the player’s Instagram can tell you everything you need to know. As others post pictures of what their vast riches can buy, or things that make you question the size of their ego, Varane’s Social Media is almost solely comprised of family and Football. A simple, yet telling example of the focus Raphaël has shown ever since he first arrived at the Spanish Capitol.

Coming to a club like Real Madrid at the age of 17 can be incredibly difficult for a player so young. It would be easy for any youngster to get caught up in the fame and fortunes of being a professional athlete — let alone one at the most prestigious club on the planet. Plenty of talents have fallen victim to such siren songs and thus suffer the consequences of not living up to their potential. Despite having these temptations around him from such a young age, Varane handled his business similarly to how he always does: professionally. Only the most focused and talented players survive the pressure cooker that is Real Madrid.

So how is it possible that someone of Varane’s quality is not more highly regarded by fans of the beautiful game? How is it possible that someone who has played at Real Madrid for seasons seasons with nearly 200 appearances for Madrid and France at the age of 25 is not more highly regarded? No matter what your opinions of Sergio Ramos, or even Gerard Pique are, they are undoubtedly polarizing characters. However, their sporting efforts have also created a strong marketing base, leading them to be well recognized even by more casual Football fans. Whether we agree or not, a large majority of people tend to believe that the players whom are marketed well are “the best”, or elite at their particular position.

Factors like these have made Raphaël Varane a complete anomaly in modern day Football. While Ramos and Pique collect most of the pre-match headlines for better or worse, it will always be Varane conducting his business almost like a Ninja; silently but with deadly efficiency. That’s not taking anything away from the talents or achievements of Ramos, Pique, or others, but rather a testament to just how unique Varane’s career has been respective to his talent level.

There is a subtle elegance to Varane’s style that one must appreciate. He doesn’t necessarily score goals, and he will never perform the type of magic on the ball that Marcelo or Luka Modric can. What he does possess is an innate intelligence and understanding of the game like few others that play his position. Combine that with his blazing speed and great physical attributes and you have a World Class center-back on your hands. The most common way people hear and talk about defenders is when they make mistakes, whether that be through misplays they made that led to a goal for the other team, or just harsh fouls. The fact that Varane does not attract so much attention in this case is perhaps not such a bad thing. Don’t mistake his quiet nature as a weakness, because once that opening whistle blows he will ruthlessly exploit anything less than perfection.

To ‘complete’ the game of football is no easy task. It requires a player to win a Champions League Title, a domestic trophy, and a World Cup trophy. For most players such an achievement requires an entire career to complete, and even then such a small minority are able to stake their claim to it. While most other players Varane’s age are merely dreaming of a transfer to a bigger club, Raphaël Varane has already ‘completed’ football. As often as we talk about other players possessing winning mentalities, it is time we start including Varane in that same conversation. After all, he has not lost a single final he has been a part of in his entire career: ten victories, zero defeats. That is an insane record, and proof that there is a cold-blooded killer defending Madrid’s goal.

Varane’s spectacular performances, coupled with France’s World Cup triumph, may or may not bring increased fame to his name. One thing will always remain certain, however, and that is that Varane will conduct his business in a ninja-like manner. Whether it is winning his fourth Champions League in five seasons, or his country’s first World Cup in 20 years, you can trust that the Frenchman will be a ruthless professional. At a club and system that can be as chaotic as Real Madrid, there may not be a more welcomed sight than an inconspicuous assassin.

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