It’s often said that a title-winning team can be distinguished by its spine, the strong rock running through the middle of a side that holds everything together during the demands of a challenging season.
Most champion teams will share some similarities in this regard. The theory goes that players running down the centre of the pitch, in defence, midfield and attack are the bedrock of a winning side.
In that spine you want physical players but you also want experience, players who have played in the biggest games and who have had the taste of success.
That was an attribute that was mostly absent from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first Manchester United XI, but gradually the spine has begun to take shape.
If United can complete a deal for Real Madrid centre back Raphael Varane this summer, then Solskjaer can probably consider the spine of his team to have been remoulded.
Varane’s contract at the Bernabeu expires in 12 months, which has led to optimism a deal is there to be done. The 28-year-old certainly fits the ball as a centre back of the highest quality and a potential partnership with Harry Maguire would have a very secure feel to it.
But Varane brings more than just quality to United. He brings trophy-winning experience and that is something Solskjaer has been keen to add to his squad in the previous 18 months.
It’s worth remembering that this is generally a callow group. The signings of Solskjaer’s first summer, in Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James, didn’t bring with them any experience of lifting trophies and United have now gone four years without winning anything. So that experience needs to be imported.
Gradually, that is what Solskjaer has sought to do. In signing Bruno Fernandes, Donny van de Beek, Alex Telles and Edinson Cavani he has bought in players with a winning mentality to add to the group. Varane would certainly fit the bill in that regard.
Not only is the centre back a World Cup winner, but he has won three La Liga titles and four Champions League titles. He’s a proven winner who knows what it takes to win the biggest prizes in the game.
His potential arrival could give United a spine of Varane, Pogba, Fernandes and Cavani. There is huge experience in that quartet and while Pogba has been used on the left recently, he often drifts inside and can play in a deeper midfield role.
Of that group Fernandes has the least experience of winning trophies, with just the Nations League in 2019 and three cup successes with Sporting in Portugal. But in 18 months at Old Trafford he’s proved he has a winning mentality that suggests those medals are just a start. His drive has been relentless and he has done as much as anyone to raise standards on the pitch.
In Varane and Pogba United would have two World Cup winners, while Cavani has also won the Copa America. Pogba has four Serie A titles with Juventus to his name and Cavani won Ligue 1 six times with Paris St-Germain. Thrown in cup medals and Varane, Pogba and Cavani have 49 major honours between them.
That kind of experience can go a long way in what is also a relatively youthful squad and one that hasn’t yet tasted success together. United have struggled to get over the line under Solskjaer, but if they can sign Varane this summer he will be another significant weapon in the squad the next time they get close to silverware.