While the talk is deservedly focused on Cristiano Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford, spearheading a fearsome counterattack that Sir Alex calls "the best" in Europe and which if Utd are to stay competitive, a 19 year old central defender is staking his claim in to be the next Manolo Sanchis, the legendary libero of the Quinte Del Buitre, one of the five vultures of the 80s winning squads.
The former Lens defender was personally tracked by Jose Mourinho for several months on the advice of Zinedine Zidane, the special adviser to Florentino Perez, who urged him to move quickly to secure the services of the teenager with Utd sniffing around exceptionally hard. On 27th June, 2011, Varane officially became a Merengue, passing his medical. The Lens president, Gervais Martel gave the transfer his blessing, "Raphael is an exceptional boy. I am proud he'll wear the colours of Real Madrid."
His youth coach called him, "a first rate talent, proficient both tactically and technically."
Some of that tactical astuteness was evident in that stunning goal line save off Xavi in the first leg of the Copa Del Rey which Varane read all the way. He then showed his technical abilities timing his tackle perfectly to pick the ball off Cesc Fabregas's feet with the Barca midfielder set to score. Capped ultimately by that brilliant header, a perfect mix of both qualities which leveled the score for the home side sparing them the blushes of another loss at the Bernabeu.
A month since that match and Varane has been playing lights out, a meteoric rise, cemented in the two subsequent encounters with Barca and the CL first leg against Utd. As Sid Lowe points out in the two legs of the Copa, Varane committed no fouls while making 30 tackles. That by itself is a rarity as committing fouls is seen as a badge of honour when it comes to these clashes.
In El Clasico, Barca except for that one goal, struggled all evening to create opportunities with Varane snuffing Villa's shot, in one of the rare chances. He also is an effective distributor of the ball making him perfect libero material. For a 19 year old he possesses an exceptional intelligence and calm which his team mates and coaches at the club say gives him clarity. Small wonder, Mourinho is ready to start him ahead of Pepe in tomorrow's match.