Raphael Varane

Varane reveals centre-back secrets

Friday 24 May 2024 08:50

What’s the secret to becoming one of the greatest centre-backs of your generation?

With 19 club trophies and a World Cup medal safely locked away in his silverware cabinet, Raphael Varane is undoubtedly among the best to have played in his position this century.

The 31-year-old will embark on the next chapter of his career in the summer, as he is set to leave Manchester United after three seasons at the club.

Before he announced his departure, we sat down with Rapha for an in-depth interview, called ‘The Art of Defending’, which is now available to watch in full and on demand.

The former France international takes us on a journey of modern defending, emphasising the importance of positioning and always being alert.

“As a defender you have to feel: where is the danger? Which space do you have to cover?” he said.

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“Also how to anticipate the movement from the striker, especially in the box, because you don’t have that time to say ‘OK, I can recover after’, because the goal is close.

“You have to be aware about the distances with the striker. Read the game, read the players on the ball, whether he can pass the ball or not, whether he’s under pressure or not, so all of those kind of things.

“It’s about being in the right position at the right moment and then it’s about timing.

“When I spoke with players who aren’t used to being at centre-back and they play there for the first time, I ask: how was it?

“The answer is always the same: ‘I feel tired, mentally tired!’

“It’s because you’re always aware, you’re always moving and reading the game.

“You’re running a bit less maybe, which is not true at the moment, because all the players on the pitch are running more and more, with more intensity, but you have to be more alert, more focused, yeah.”

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During his career, which started at Lens in 2010, Varane has seen his position develop, with centre-backs now regularly taking the most touches and playing the most passes during the average game.

It’s no longer just about stopping the opposition and making tackles and clearances, as there is now a responsibility to set the tone in possession from the back.

“It’s very important,” Rapha replied, when asked about these changing responsibilities.

“For me, when you don’t have pressure, you have to dribble a little bit to carry the ball, to force an opponent to press you.

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“That makes free another player from your team and when you are under pressure, you have to see before where you want to pass the ball: to play one-touch or to control it in the right space, to pass the ball.

“Or you play very quick, very fast, or you have to force them to press you.”

Varane contributed a goal at the other end of the pitch in United’s first game of the season, at home to Wolves.

Scoring will always be a special feeling, as it happens so rarely as a defender, but it’s clear that the number one focus is on stopping the opposition at the other end.

The Reds defenders under Erik ten Hag have notably celebrated the best sliding blocks and tackles to protect their clean sheets, something we’re all hoping to see from Rapha and his team-mates in Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup final.

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“We spoke at the beginning of the season, to create that enjoyment of defending and create that energy, that motivation to try to achieve the clean sheet. That’s something as a defender we want to do.

“I remember some discussion at the beginning of the season with my team-mates and we said it’s important to do it.

“We can see that in our best performances, we did it a lot, so communication is very important.”