Raphael Varane.

Raphael Varane's road to Manchester

Monday 14 February 2022 10:00

Raphael Varane has become one of the top defenders in world football and the much-decorated Frenchman provided Inside United with insight into his background and career path to date.

The centre-back was cruelly denied his first Manchester United goal in the 1-1 draw with Burnley last week, following a lengthy VAR review and referee Mike Dean consulting the touchline screen, but he has been showing his class of late.

Indeed, interim manager Ralf Rangnick felt Varane's performance in the Emirates FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough was his best yet for the Reds.

Raphael afforded us his time recently for a detailed interview that was first published in Inside United, the official magazine. 

Check out what he had to say and watch the video...

Varane: I always followed United Video

Varane: I always followed United

Raphael tells us more about his background and how he became the top-class defender he is today...

Raphael, as we’re looking at your story so far, can we go back to the start – what are you earliest memories of football?
“I think it was at my house with my family. With my brother, I think that is the first place I have a memory of.”

And was it hard playing with your brother as he was older than you and bigger than you, so were there tears sometimes?
“Yes, it was very hard. He always tried to beat me so I think this started to pique my feeling and my motivation about the competition; to compete always.”

It’s stood you in good stead. Your dad is from Martinique but what was it like when France won the World Cup in 1998, was everyone in the house going crazy?
“It’s a nice memory, yes. I was very young but I remember and have some memories of it.”

You played rugby as well, at first, so was that an option or was it always going to be football for you?
“No, always football.”
You had to go away to boarding school – was that a very difficult time for you to be away from home doing your studies?
“Yeah, it was not easy for me. I was very busy and tired but, always, studying was very important and obviously football too. So it was difficult to do both things but my mum and my dad wanted to help me, to push me to help me to both things.”

Did that help you develop the character to become a professional sportsman by putting in the hard effort while you were away?
“Yes, I think it’s a good school to learn to fight and to be strong and, mentally, to never give up.”

Moving on to Lens and central defenders are normally a bit older and more experienced so how did you find it breaking into the team so early?
“I think I was ready and it’s difficult when you are a young player because it’s normal that you have to make mistakes to improve. But, at the professional level, there is no patience [laughs]. So it’s hard to start very young. But I think I built my character and when I was not at a good moment with all the people and without some comfort was when I had to fight to play and be happy on the pitch.”

Did the older players and the coach help you at that time too?
“Of course. It’s very important when a person is young to feel comfortable with all the players. Those with more experience can help you to get more confidence and be more calm.”

You captained the team before joining Real Madrid – that’s very unusual at such a young age and is an honour so, again, did that show what sort of character you are?
“Yeah, it was a difficult season with my club. Yes, I had the captaincy for some games so it was an honour for me. I tried to help the team so I think I always try to think about my team-mates and the group.”

We know there was obviously a chance for you to join United and Sir Alex was involved – what is the truth there, did he meet you and your family?
“Yeah, he came to my mother’s house and it was a special moment. I was very young and it was a great experience.”

He always knew a good player, Sir Alex. Did you feel it was your destiny and the move might happen to United one day as we’d still be following you?
“Yes. Manchester United has always been a special club for me, with a big history. I always followed this club and, you know, I have great memories about, for example, Champions League or great games the Premier League. Obviously, it’s a great club and, of course, I always followed Manchester United.”

So it was Real Madrid first for you, before coming here, and you had great success there but what was it like going into that dressing room full of Galacticos and world stars at such a young age?
“I think I was very young and the experience was absolutely amazing. I have been 10 years at this big club and I had a big opportunity when I was young to come to a club like Madrid. I think I have always been happy in this place as I have a lot of great memories and a lot of friends in Madrid. So it’s always that everything is positive when I speak about Madrid.”

On your documentary we've seen, you told Cristiano to call you ‘Rapha’ very early on so that showed you felt you were able to play at that level very early on and able to converse with these stars and be good team-mates with them…
“I think I had to learn, I had to improve and to show my character and to show to my partner I was able to play in this club and with this pressure and at this level. It was important to show I had the character for the top level.”

Before we move on, the Champions League game against United sticks out for us as we felt it was a very unfair red card for Nani, what are your memories of that particular match?
“I remember the atmosphere was amazing. It was the return of Cristiano so it was a special day and it was a great result for us. It was the beginning of my career in the Champions League so it was obviously a special moment.”

That red card was unfair, though…
Varane's disallowed goal at Turf Moor Video

Varane's disallowed goal at Turf Moor

Raphael Varane thought he had scored his first United goal early on, until VAR cruelly intervened...

Going back to family, how important is it now you have your own family life with your children – does it help you switch off and relax away from football?
“Yes, it’s very important for my balance, for my life. I think it’s a big change for me and my family but I think it’s a great, great experience and we are already happy in Manchester. So I think this experience can be very, very good for me and my family.”

How are you finding Manchester, have you seen the city and other places around the north west of England?
“Yeah, yeah. To be honest, the city is very good. It’s a nice city and I like the mentality of the people. I have a good feeling. I like the atmosphere in the city.”

Your little boy Ruben is he a striker – we’ve been asked to ask about his left foot!
“Yes, he's left footed! He loves football. He already knows the names of the players and always wants to play with me. Sometimes I have to tell him to stop because he always thinks about football and wants to play football [laughs]!”

Are you his favourite player or does he like someone else?
“I think he has not got favourite players at the moment. He just wants to enjoy the game.”

I’m sure you’ll be his favourite. And have you been doing some work with coaching in Martinique, where you have roots, back in that country?
“Yeah, in Martinique and in France, we have some campuses and we try to teach them football for all the young people in these places. It’s interesting. I like to help and I like to give my experience and to share my experience with them.”

A bit more about your character as we know how intelligent and mature you are – did your education make you the person and character you are today?
“I think education is very, very important, not only for me but for everyone. I want to say thank you to my parents, it’s because of them. I think it’s very important for values to be, you know, a better person; to try to be a better person every day..

Would you pass this message on to your children, no matter what field they choose to go into, that education is still the most important thing?
“Of course. I want to share what I learn and it’s very, very important the education.”

Paul Pogba said you were like ‘water in a storm’ and he was like ‘fire’ – is that because of your relaxed, placid personality?
“I think there is different leadership [styles]. Paul is more impulsive and more energetic. I am more calm and more analytical and practical things. There are different points of view. I think it’s important to have, in a team, these different leaderships.”

Who is the first person you pick the phone up to speak to after a game? We know you’re very analytical about the matches…
“My older brother. He calls me and we can speak about good or bad things, how to improve, how to analyse. Always, after every game, I think we have little things we can do better and I always try to improve.”

How are you finding life in the Premier League – most players mention the physicality and the intensity of the football when they first arrive?
“Yes, the intensity is very different. The pace of the game is a really high level. It’s a great experience. I like the atmosphere around the stadiums. I like the mentality. It’s very intense but always in good spirit and very positive. This experience for me is great.”

It's often said that no game is easy in the Premier League, even teams near the bottom are difficult, is this a fair assessment?
“Yeah, the games are very difficult. You can’t be relaxed, you can be winning a game and you know if you have 10 minutes to play, anything can happen. I think it’s the best league in the world and the intensity is absolutely amazing. Every team has players with top quality. Tactically, it’s a very high level and there are a lot of players and coaches from everywhere. So it’s a mix about different cultures and different styles of players and of mentality. I think that is why the league is top because it's the best from everywhere, you know [laughs].

There are so many nationalities. Has anything surprised you about the league?
“No it is what I imagined.”

How was it getting that introduction at Old Trafford from the fans before the Newcastle game, was that a special moment?
“Absolutely, it was a great moment. I will never forget this moment.”

Did it make you immediately feel at home, knowing the fans loved you from the start?
“It’s a good feeling, having the good relationship with the fans, and I think that’s one more reason to do my best and to help the team, to fight every day to help the club and work to win trophies.”

Raphael Varane has adapted well to life in the Premier League.

There have been plenty of bonding sessions and meals out at restaurants, have you enjoyed getting to know your new team-mates?
“Yeah, it’s very good. I think I knew Manchester United, it’s like a family and that’s my feeling. I feel like I’m in a family, you know. My relationship with my team-mates is very good and as, like I say, I like the mentality here. I feel good, you know, with my team-mates, we have good relations.”

It may have made it easier to settle knowing we have a big French connection here – not just Paul and Anthony but so many players from the past – Cantona, Barthez, Blanc, Evra etc. Is it about carrying on that tradition here?
“Yes, it’s an honour to be among these great players. I will try to do my best and I just want to enjoy it. I’m happy to have this connection with the club and the fans.”

What are your ambitions here for the next few years at United, what would you like to achieve?
“I came here to help the club win trophies and to enjoy [it] with the fans and to play as well as possible.” 

You mentioned being very analytical – do you watch other defenders across the continent and try to learn other things from them?
“When I watch a game, it’s not just about the goal or not a goal, it’s about what decision has the centre-back taken, is he in a good position or not. Has he made the right choice or not, I always analyse it like this.”

You clearly study the game and it’s very early, as you’re only 28, but do you think your future might be in coaching in the long-term or is it too soon to say?
“I don’t know. I don’t know. To be honest, we will see. I don’t know.”

It seems a long way off, yet you’re very interested in football and as a student of the game so you are learning that all the time?
“Yeah but I always try to disconnect and think about other things because I need to rest. You can think for 24 hours on football so it’s important to think about different things for me, and to think about my family and other things as well.”

Briefly, on your English, well done for doing it all in English! You’ve picked it up very quickly…
“No, I start learning and it was important for me, to be more comfortable in the city, with my team-mates and the connection with the fans. It’s important for me and I really need to improve even more. I have to look for more and keep going.”

Final question, we read that there is a mantra you have used since you were young, which may not translate too well into English but goes something along the lines of ‘To fall is allowed, to rise is mandatory.’ Is this true?
“Yes, this is something I learned when I was younger. And it was in a moment when I had an injury. A bad moment. I know it’s obvious but, when it’s difficult, that is when you have to show your character and come back stronger. That is why it’s important.”

So you always have that message with you to help you?

The next edition of Inside United is available to buy from Tuesday and David De Gea is the subject of the latest big interview.