MANCHESTER, Aug 14 — After a string of middling transfer windows, Manchester United have made their biggest statement of intent in recent years by signing centre back Raphael Varane and winger Jadon Sancho.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer described the duo’s arrival as a show of “ambition” from United, with Sancho’s skills providing a new attacking threat and Varane potentially offering the defensive stability the team have lacked for years.
The Frenchman, 28, joins from Real Madrid for a fee Sky Sports reported could rise to £41 million (RM241 million) including add-ons — a bargain given his resume that includes four Champions League trophies, three LaLiga titles and a World Cup triumph with France.
For a team that struggled defensively last season, Varane’s capture is a coup for United, bringing experience and quality that will be essential to challenging the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea for the Premier League title.
United, who finished second last season, were guilty of lapses in concentration — especially from set-pieces — often conceding poor goals while being on top in games.
They conceded 44 goals in all, the most among the top four and 12 more than champions City, a telling statistic, and Solskjaer will be hoping Varane’s addition can change all that.
Having spent a decade at possibly the most demanding club in the world, Varane could offer the consistency United have lacked in defence ever since Alex Ferguson left as manager eight years ago.
Reinforcements have been largely disappointing, with both Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof proving inconsistent, placing the bulk of the defensive responsibility on captain Harry Maguire.
“(Varane) is a proven winner and a player we’ve followed for many, many years. I know Sir Alex was very, very close to signing him and this time around we’ve got him at the other end of his career,” Solskjaer added.
Varane’s main qualities are his speed and ability to carry the ball out from the back, a trait that has drawn comparisons with former United and England centre back Rio Ferdinand.
Jose Mourinho, who worked with Varane for two seasons after the latter’s move to the Bernabeu from Lens in 2011, called him “the best central defender in the world” in 2014, high praise from a manager who has worked with some of the very best.
Varane’s composure on the ball and desire to join the midfield in attack could be key to United, who struggled to break down teams willing to sit deep against them last season.
His quiet dynamism should also be the ideal foil for Maguire, who likes a tackle and has a strong vocal presence, a player more in the mould of Sergio Ramos, alongside whom Varane flourished at Real Madrid.
United will, however, be keenly aware of just how poorly some of their recent high-profile signings have fared. Angel Di Maria, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez moved to Old Trafford amid much fanfare, but enjoyed limited success at the club.
France World Cup winner Paul Pogba has also endured a frustrating time since joining from Juventus five years ago.
Solskjaer will be hoping Varane can buck that trend and have a similar impact to that of Ruben Dias at City last season.
United are not the finished article yet, but the Frenchman has the ability to push them towards the next level. — Reuters