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The “historical soldier” who became, in fact, a general: Varane shines once again for France at Qatar 2022

“I was right in the middle of my revision, and the telephone was ringing non-stop for my future transfer,” he said. “At 18 years old, you don’t necessarily have the experience to handle that kind of situation.

“Among all the calls, there was one from Zizou, who wanted to talk to me about Real’s interest.

“As I didn’t recognise him straight away, and it was early in the evening and I was tired, I didn’t let him talk too much. Without really thinking, I asked him to call me back later.”

Raphaël Varane’s career could have turned out very different, were it not for the missed call he had from Zinedine Zidane, back then a consultant for Real Madrid, who wanted to talk to him about a transfer to the Spanish giants.

Back then, Varane was just one of the huge prospects for France, a no-nonsense central defender, who was 18 years old and had a huge upside, but was playing for Lens, a small team in the French league.

He had already represented the France Under-18 and Under-23 teams and had little experience outside of a full season in Lens’ senior team, which was trying to avoid relegation in the Ligue 1.

But Zidane did not back down, as his managerial skills were clear from the start. He came back with another call and the rest was history. Real Madrid paid only €11 million for Varane and he was slotted immediately in the centre of the defence, underlining the new approach from the Spanish powerhouse, which was eyeing young talent rather than splashing plenty of money on established stars.

In total, Varane spent 10 years at Real Madrid, winning the UEFA Champions League four times and the La Liga, the Spanish championship, three times. He was a true mainstay in the team that became one of the greatest ever, a true dynasty that dominated European football and won the biggest trophy of them all at club level three times in a row.

From the young kid born in Lille, from a father hailing from Martinique and a French mother, Varane became one of the top defenders in the world, who also helped France get back to the pinnacle of world football, securing the FIFA World Cup trophy in 2018.

Or, as the French media puts it, he is a “historical soldier” for “Les Bleus”, who has already featured 91 times for the national team, despite being at the peak of his powers, at 29 years old.

He is the leader of an inexperienced defence, which sees Jules Kounde deployed on the right back position, Theo Hernandez on the left back and Dayot Upamecano pairing with Varane in the centre. The other three defenders in France’s back line have only 38 caps between them, nearly a third less than Varane himself.

“Myself, Lloris, Griezmann and Giroud know each other very well. We have a lot of experience. We are trying to guide the younger players. We know which direction we have to go in and we want to transmit our calmness and composure when the stakes are high,” said Varane before the semi-final against Morocco, which will be key for France in securing the second consecutive place in the final of the FIFA World Cup.

If France do win the trophy, it will be the first time a team secures back-to-back wins since Brazil did it in 1958 and 1962, a superb performance, coming exactly 60 years after the “Selecao” did it.

But Varane’s path to Qatar 2022 was not easy. The French defender left Real Madrid in the summer of 2021 in a €50 million move to Manchester United, which could be described as an odd one.

Varane entered in the middle of a storm at United, with three managers on the books in one year, while his own fragility, a rare minus on his resume, kept him from playing more than 40 matches in one and a half seasons.

Indeed, the central defender was close to missing the 2022 FIFA World Cup due to an injury suffered in a game against Chelsea in October. His knee was twisted and it looked like it was game over and Deschamps had plenty of headaches with his selection.

“I then got a medical diagnosis. It said that if I worked hard at my rehab, I could come back and be ready for the World Cup. I am so happy to be here,” said Varane.

Indeed, he did work hard and was back on the biggest of stages, for his third consecutive FIFA World Cup edition. The “historical soldier” was there and he did his job to perfection, helping France to the semi-finals. Now it’s crunch time, for another step to the trophy.

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