A tale of two defenders.
Raphael Varane finds himself linked with a move to Manchester United exactly a decade on from the Red Devils’ initial interest in the French centre-half.
In the summer of 2011, Sir Alex Ferguson drafted a list of defensive targets and Varane was one of several names on the shortlist.
The centre-back, who had established a promising reputation in his debut season for Lens, prompted a scouting mission from Ferguson himself, who personally went to watch Varane play for the Ligue 1 side.
Ferguson was beaten to the punch by Real Madrid, managed by Jose Mourinho at the time, after Zinedine Zidane – who was then occupying an advisor role at the Bernabeu – heard of United’s interest.
“In 2011 I hurtled down to Lille. Zinedine Zidane got wind of this and somehow scooped him up for Real Madrid,” Ferguson wrote in his 2015 book Leading.
That summer, United ended up signing Phil Jones to a five-year deal and Ferguson predicted that the defender, signed from Blackburn Rovers for £16.5 million, could go on to achieve legendary status for the Red Devils.
Man United had Raphael Varane and Phil Jones on their shortlist
After winning his last Premier League title for United, Ferguson said: “Jones, arguably the way he is looking, could be our best ever player.
“I think Jones may be one of the best players we have ever had, no matter where we play him.”
Jones has not exactly met Ferguson’s expectations in his decade at the club, making just eight appearances in all competitions since the beginning of the 2019/20 season.
As for Varane, he quickly made his presence felt for Real and struck up a fantastic relationship with Sergio Ramos; winning three La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and the Copa del Rey for Los Blancos – not to mention his World Cup triumph three years ago.
If not for Phil Jones, Raphael Varane might already be a Man United player
In 2015, Varane addressed United’s interest in him four years earlier and the Frenchman, who was also scouted by Paris Saint-Germain, admitted that the signing of Jones turned him off the idea of moving to Old Trafford.
“Manchester United? They had just signed Phil Jones in my position,” Varane told L’Equipe.
“PSG? The project there wasn’t clear. The Qataris had only just arrived and it was all very vague.
“My first reaction when Real wanted to sign me was not: ‘Of course I will go.’ I only made my decision when I knew that the coach wanted me to play in the first team.”