Raphael Varane: The rock at the back for Real Madrid
The game was nicely poised at 1-0, with Real Madrid creating a host of chances against the Borussia Dortmund high back line. Then, against the run of play, Dortmund put a lot of men forward on a counterattack and Yarmalenko put in a high cross to Aubameyang for a tap-in, from just two yards out.
It was one of the most difficult situations for any defender, that close to your own goal, where the slightest of touches can make you put one in your own net. But Varane came through for Madrid and cleared the cross high over the crossbar for a corner kick. It was a certain goal before it was cleared.
The fact which makes it even better was that Madrid scored one, moments later on the counter, to make it 2-0. In the space of a few minutes, the complexion of the whole game changed with Los Blancos securing their first win at Dortmund’s home, and the player in the thick of it was none other than Raphael Varane.
The phone call that changed Varane's career trajectory
For those who have been following Real Madrid or even the France national team know, this was no one-off. He had been groomed for this for a long time. It was 2011 when an 18-year old Varane, contracted to his boyhood club Lens, received a phone call from a certain Zinedine Zidane.
This was during his school exams and he hung up on the French legend asking to call him back after the exam. Now playing for Madrid under the same legendary Frenchman, Varane jokes about that day, but also states that it was Zidane indeed who was the reason he moved to the biggest club in the world at such a young age.
Never in his wildest dreams would Varane have imagined making his debut in the 2011-12 season from the word go. In Real’s first competitive game of the season, against Racing Santander, he started with Ricardo Carvalho as a centre-back and helped his team earn the first clean sheet of the season in 0-0 draw.
The next fixture against Rayo Vallecano led to his first goal in a Madrid shirt, a back heel shot from an Ozil corner. This made him the youngest foreign goal-scorer in Madrid’s glorious history. A strong start to the league campaign contributed to Real winning the Liga title with a record 100 points and a record 121 goals scored. This first major honour was just a peek into his immensely successful club career.
A very strange season was on the cards for Varane and the club in 2012-13. Having switched to the number 2 shirt for this campaign, Varane made his first start in September in the UEFA Champions League Group Stage match against Ajax. Madrid didn't let Barcelona get better of them all season in the Clasicos, but lost the title to them.
Varane was responsible for the home stalemate, clearing a Xavi shot off the line and scoring one in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey 1st leg. In the away leg, he scored again from an Ozil corner and Madrid won 3-1 on their way to knocking Barcelona out of the cup, only to lose the final to Atletico Madrid in extra time.
For the next three seasons under Ancelotti and Benitez, Varane struggled with injuries and lack of confidence. This was partly due to him failing to feature regularly and the good form of Pepe. He still started the 2014 UEFA Champions League Final in Lisbon against Atletico Madrid and led the defence very well as Madrid Secured La Decima in a dramatic 4-1 victory after extra time.
A key player under Zizou
The new season started on a bitter-sweet note. After a turmoil-filled six-month reign of Rafa Benitez, Madrid enjoyed a renaissance under Zidane. They finished the season as defending European Champions having beaten Atletico again in the Champions League final in Milan.
Varane changed to a more orthodox centre-back number “5” on the back of his shirt for the 2016-17 season. He enjoyed a resurgence, which includes scoring in the Champions League against Dortmund and comfortably replacing Pepe as the first-choice centre-back partner with Ramos.
Such were his performances that Madrid decided not to renew Pepe’s contract and let him depart for free after ten seasons at the club. He repaid the faith with a solid performance against Juventus in the Champions League final in Cardiff, leading Madrid to a 4-1 victory and thereby becoming the first side to retain the trophy in its current format.
With the France national team too, Varane has been a standout and solid performer. He is a Deschamps favourite and was once made captain by the same manager. Injuries have affected him in the national team too, missing out on the Euros in 2016 in his home nation. He is in contention to lead this immensely talented French team to World Cup glory in Russia next year.
This year, Varane welcomed the birth of his first child with his wife Camille Tytgat. He is very mature now and has settled in well at Madrid. There were some rumours of him joining Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and Manchester United, but Varane never seriously thought about leaving the Spanish Capital.
In all these ins and outs of the revolving door of mega money club football currently, it's easy to forget that Varane has been with Madrid for the last six years. He has already won every major club honour in those years, twice winning the La Liga and Copa del Rey and winning the coveted Champions League thrice.
He recently signed a new long-term deal with Real Madrid till 2022, at the end of which he would still only be 29 years old. With his confidence restored and Zidane at the helm of Madrid, he now hopes of staying with Los Merengues for the rest of his career.
If Madrid are indeed successful in keeping him until the end of his contract, he is bound to lift more major honours with the club and individually. Their fans will always look back to that phone call from Zidane which started it all.