Manchester United executives might be starting to get a sense of deja vu as they pursue a summer deal for Real Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane.
The France defender would be a magnificent signing for United, but they’ve been here before with Real Madrid central defenders. In fact, United’s transfer history with Real Madrid is one nobody at Old Trafford looks back on fondly.
The narrative has mostly been around departures. Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to the Spanish capital was long foretold and David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy also moved to the Bernabeu, as did Gabriel Henize, once he’d failed to push through the move to Liverpool he really wanted.
United’s attempts to prise players away from Madrid haven’t been anywhere near as successful. They did manage to sign Angel Di Maria, who flopped dreadfully at Old Trafford. They also made efforts to sign Toni Kroos in 2014 and Gareth Bale in 2015, only for both players to join Real.
But as United chase a deal for Varane the name they won’t be able to get out of their heads is Sergio Ramos. He was regularly linked with a move to Old Trafford and that speculation was never as fervent as it was in 2015, when his contract had a year to run.
United wanted to sign the Spain international and made a bid of £28.6million. The Ramos camp were happy to court the attention, only for a new deal to be signed at the Bernabeu instead. United felt used and it was a summer that didn’t reflect well on the club at all – they’d been outsmarted by Real and there was a sense they’d been strung alone by Ramos, who got the contract he wanted in Madrid.
“There was an offer from United. I considered changing for a while, but Real Madrid was always my priority and there were no economic reasons,” Ramos said about that period.
“Did I feel cheated [by Madrid]? No, but I did feel disappointed for a while. There were some troubles that came to an end. Flattery from big clubs is always good as this is because you are doing well, but the fans and my club want me.”
A club of the size and stature of United doesn’t expect to be used as a pawn in transfer dealings, but that’s how it felt all the time. Stories in Spain suggested Ramos was determined to leave to join them, but that’s not how it looked when that new five-year contract was signed.
Now United are in a similar position with Varane, ironically in the same summer that Ramos has finally cut the umbilical cold with Real – or had it cut for him from the nature of his press conference on Thursday.
But while United have no interest in turning to 35-year-old Ramos, Varane, at 28, would be a statement signing and the noises are he’s ready to leave Madrid. Where have we heard that before?
Real will likely sell this summer rather than risk losing him for nothing next year, but after Ramos’ departure the idea of Varane signing a new contract can’t be discounted. Not only does it free up room in the budget at the Bernabeu, but it makes the possibility of losing both their starting centre backs in the summer particularly unpalatable, even if David Alaba has already arrived on a free transfer.
Varane displayed against Germany in France’s Euro 2020 opener the all-round brilliance that has made him one of the outstanding central defenders of his generation. Put him in this United side and their chances of winning the title automatically increase.
United wanted him before he left Lens for Madrid in 2011. He’d still be a game-changing addition to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad a decade on, but the last thing anybody at Old Trafford wants is to be taken for a ride by Real and a centre-back for a second time.