Raphael Varane interview: 'Man Utd must be at the top - getting them there is what motivates me'

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  • Manchester United
    Manchester United
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  • Raphaël Varane
    Raphaël Varane
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  • Ole Gunnar Solskjær
    Ole Gunnar Solskjær
    Norwegian association football player and manager
Raphael Varane interview: 'Man Utd must be at the top — getting them back there is what motivates me' - Manchester United
Raphael Varane interview: 'Man Utd must be at the top — getting them back there is what motivates me' - Manchester United

History has been a burden for a number of Manchester United managers and players in recent years, but for Raphael Varane it is a motivation to earn something even more important than silverware.

United will not end their eight-year run without winning the Premier League in Varane’s first season at Old Trafford, following a poor run that prompted a managerial change. But, in four months at the club, he has seen enough to know what the prize for doing so would be.

Varane, of course, has plenty of trophies and will always be one of the Real Madrid players who won three successive Champions League titles. The challenge at United, in the Frenchman’s opinion, is bigger than simply trying to deliver silverware. It is, as he put it, to defend and create history.

“It's important for this club to be at the top and I'm sure fans will always remember which team comes back to the top,” said Varane. “That's a great challenge. That’s a challenge that motivates me.

“I won everything [at Madrid], so maybe I was looking for a different feeling. To defend history. You have to fight for something bigger than you. You have to fight for the club and the fans and this history. That's very important.

“From the outside, you can see how the club respects legends, respects history. Now I can feel it on the inside and know the feeling of being a player of Manchester United. Everyone respects everyone and I feel the warmth. I feel like everyone here is equal, there are no differences.”

It is testament to Varane’s character that he agreed to give his first English interview, in person, at a time when he knew the questions would not be simple. The defender also insisted that he would answer them all in English and without the safety net of a translator.

Not only was Varane early for our meeting, which took place at United’s Carrington training ground almost a week after the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and just after news that Ralf Rangnick would be arriving as interim manager, but he also set no time limit on what became an hour-long discussion that covered 10 years at Madrid and four eventful months in Manchester.

After choosing Madrid ahead of United in 2011, Varane won a total of four Champions Leagues, three La Liga titles, the Copa Del Rey, three Super Cups and four Club World Cups. But rarely were the victories savoured, such was the expectation at the Spanish club.

Varane, second left, won four Champions League titles with Real Madrid - Getty Images
Varane, second left, won four Champions League titles with Real Madrid - Getty Images

So seeing the United fans singing the name of the manager and loudly supporting the team even when they have been losing has been an eye-opener for Varane.

“A very good example was the atmosphere at Old Trafford when we were losing 2-0 and we won the game 3-2 [against Atalanta],” said Varane. “The stadium pushed the team. In all the countries it's very different if you are losing 2-0 at home, the atmosphere will be very different.

“That's one of the reasons I came here because of the different atmosphere, different feeling in stadiums. Manchester United is special (for that) and in England it's different in comparison to other countries in Europe.”

Varane was part of the France squad that partied through to the following morning after winning the World Cup in 2018 and ended their celebrations with a 5am game of boules, but at Madrid time stopped for no man.

“After winning the Champions League, the fans don’t congratulate you,” he said. “It was ‘OK, the next one’ after the first one I won. Four Champions Leagues! And they tell me, ‘OK, go to the next one.’ I just want to say sometimes you have to enjoy what you have. It was good!

“A party all together? Some trophies yes, but not always because after, for example, the last Champions League we had the World Cup. Sometimes I wanted to push the pause button, find some time to celebrate.

“That’s why Madrid are special. It's because of this special mentality too. It's different. That's why I wanted to change, not because I don't like this mentality or because it's bad. It's very good, but I just wanted to try something different.”

'Winning is something mental'

There are, though, lessons that can be learned from Madrid for United, as the club attempts to turn around the alarming decline in form that resulted in the dismissal of Solskjaer and the arrival of Rangnick, who Varane admits he knew little about before meeting him this week.

Varane, who watched most of the defeats from the sidelines with a thigh injury from which he is almost recovered, said: “Maybe it's about confidence as a group, as a team. Sometimes with Madrid we played very bad, but we stayed calm because we knew our moment was coming and we would kill them.

“I remember games, for example, against Bayern Munich in the Champions League and they were better than us, but we won. This is confidence and we had to build it. Before starting to win the Champions League consecutively, it was not the same. The team had the same quality, but not the same result. So why? It's something mental.

“If we keep working, the results will come. We have to believe. We have to stay calm and focus on our work. That's what I say to my team-mates in the dressing room. There’s no other choice.”

Varane is equally confident he can form a successful partnership with Harry Maguire or any of United’s other central defenders: Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones. United have won all of the games in which Varane and Maguire have both played the full 90 minutes.

“We have complementary qualities,” said Varane, of Maguire. “I like to protect the back of the defence and he likes to go [slaps hands] in the contact. So we can do both, but, obviously, because of our characteristics we prefer some situations and that's why we are complementary. We can also play with Victor, Eric or Phil, who have their own qualities, so there are many options.”

'It was a shock when Ferguson came to my house'

Sir Alex Fergsuon was the first person to explain United’s history to Varane and his mother Annie at their family home in Lille in 2011 before Solskjaer retiratated the values of the club this summer before the 28-year-old’s £34-million move from Madrid.

“Ole’s a very good person and humble with important values,” said Varane. “In a short time here, he taught me a lot of things about the club, the mentality. He represents a lot of things about this club.”

Varane conceded that it was difficult to watch Solskjaer’s in-house exit interview following his sacking, but was impressed by the Norwegian’s decision to lay bare his emotion.

“Sometimes when you speak about something sensitive, it's seen as a little bit negative because it’s like a weakness. But it’s not true. It's a strength. When he speaks with a player, he’s honest. It's important for a manager to be honest with his players. It was a short time working with him, but I learned a lot.”

Varane has yet to bump into Ferguson, but is looking forward to reminiscing with the Scotsman about their first meeting when he was aged just 18 and deciding on his big move from Lens.

“It was a shock,” said Varane of Ferguson’s visit to his family home. “To be honest, I was waiting in my house and looking out of the window to see if he was really coming.

“When he came, I didn’t speak English. My mum speaks perfect English, so she was the person who spoke more with him. It was a discussion about how he saw me, how he could have a project with me and how he could help me to grow as a person and player. It was very, very interesting and a very big experience for me.”

Varane interview
Varane interview

Varane admits his "first idea was to come to Manchester United" but a telephone call from Real Madrid sporting director Zinedine Zidane, which Varane initially put off to give himself time to think, changed the course of the Frenchman's career.

"Zizou called me and the transfer accelerated very quickly. I went to Madrid, I spoke with [Jose] Mourinho, I went back to France and then I took the Baccalaureate exam the day after I saw Mourinho.

“It was a crazy moment of my life. I was playing with the first team at Lens and the club knew I had to be sold. So a lot of agents called me. I was very tired because there were a lot of things to do and to think about. So when Zizou first called me, I was really busy and I didn’t know it was him at the beginning. When I recognised him, I was in shock. It was crazy, so I asked him to call me back!”

Varane had not been brave enough to tell Ferguson himself that he would be joining Madrid, but all will be forgiven if he can help United to create some more history all these years later.

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