Manchester United’s pursuit of Raphael Varane has been on the cards for a few months, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer desperate to land a world-class centre-back to partner Harry Maguire next season. Throughout the transfer links the question has always been ‘can they land him?’. But after France’s 1-1 draw with Hungary on Saturday, maybe it should now be ‘should they want him?’
Varane’s quality has rarely been questioned amid a sterling 10-year stint with Real Madrid. He’s won four Champions League titles, three La Ligas and the Copa del Rey. He played a significant part in France’s 2018 World Cup triumph.
Yet all of that was forgotten on a humid afternoon in Budapest. With rumours continuing to swirl over his future at club level, Varane endured a difficult game against Hungary, who were presumed by everyone to be the Group F whipping boys.
Hungary kept Portugal quiet for 84 minutes on Tuesday before Cristiano Ronaldo helped the defending champions plunder three goals in the closing stages, and they went one better against France.
While it won’t be the biggest takeaway from a memorable performance from Hungary, Varane’s display won’t be lost on United’s hierarchy.
United are long-standing fans of Varane and have twice tried to sign the 28-year-old defender. They are reportedly willing to splash significant money to finally land him this summer and, while he clearly has credit in the bank, recency bias could still play a part in undermining a potential move to Old Trafford.
Varane’s apparent uncomfortableness began early in Budapest. After just three minutes he was drawn out to the right-hand side where he fouled the impressive Roland Sallai with a clumsy tackle which gave away a dangerous free-kick.
He was perhaps fortunate to avoid a yellow card and from the resulting set piece it didn’t get much better, with Varane losing his man and running into Endre Botka, who went down claiming a penalty.
France settled and dominated proceedings for the rest of the first half – right up until the decisive moment came in the 46th minute.
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The ball was switched to left-wingback Attila Fiola, who headed it in-field to Sallai. Varane got too tight to his man and Sallai’s touch took the ball in behind France right-back Benjamin Pavard.
Fiola raced onto the loose ball and charged into the box to beat Hugo Lloris at his near post. The goal sparked wild celebrations in the Hungarian capital, but recriminations for France’s sloppy defending began immediately.
Watching the replay on the BBC’s coverage, co-commentator Jermaine Jenas said: “Just here, Varane is late in that challenge – and when Attila Fiola gets it, he’s got one thought in his mind, to drive into the box to make Varane make a tough decision.
“He can’t bring him down now. He composes himself and sticks it away.”
At half-time it fell to Alan Shearer to provide the analysis and the former England striker was more critical of Pavard than Varane.
“He goes behind Pavard too easily,” he said.
“He gives and goes and he can’t keep up with him. And before Varane realises, it’s too late, he cannot foul him. It’s a great position for him to be in and he wasn’t phased at all.
“He’s got five yards on him there, because he’s slow on the turn, Pavard. But when he gets in there it’s a magnificent finish.”
There was a more typical moment for Varane to come, with the centre-back getting in the perfect position at the near post after 60 minutes to cut out Laszlo Kleinheisler’s dangerous cross as the game opened up.
But minutes later he was looking suspect once again. With Andras Schafer on his shoulder, the French defender took the decision to slice the ball into touch, prompting another observation from Jenas.
“He’s looked a bit shaky at times, Raphael Varane,” he said.
“He was sluggish on the turn. From a defender of his quality, that’s panicking. Just knock it back to your goalkeeper.”
Antoine Griezmann scored the equaliser for France, but the favourites could not force a winner. The last chance fell to none other than Varane, who lept high but failed to put his header on target with the last touch of the match.
The moment summed up a game to forget for the Real Madrid man, who faces a big decision about his future in the coming weeks.
This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Sport Feed