Manchester United are finally on the cusp of being genuine Premier League title challengers once again as a result of the revolution that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the club hierarchy have overseen in the last couple of years, with Raphael Varane the latest step in the right direction.
The deadwood collected in successive failed managerial regimes is all but gone, while signings since 2019 have been targeted with the club’s core philosophies and the long-term future in mind.
After improving to third and reaching three semi-finals in Solskjaer’s first full season in charge, United jumped to second last season and reached a European final. This summer was always going to be crucial in adding extra quality in key, targeted positions.
First was Jadon Sancho, whose £73m arrival from Borussia Dortmund has now been completed. Next is Raphael Varane, for whom United have now announced a deal in principle with Real Madrid. The final details of the transfer will be completed in due course over the coming days.
One of the brightest young talents in Europe and with incredible potential to become world class in the not too distant future, Sancho fills a void on the right flank that has existed since at least 2015.
Varane, meanwhile, brings a proven track record of success and vast experience to the defence.
United’s defensive record, while not problematic in 2019/20 – conceding only three fewer than champions Liverpool – let them down in 2020/21. They leaked more goals than the rest of top four, an average of more than a goal per game, more than Arsenal and only three fewer than West Ham.
Harry Maguire is a leader and, despite his vocal critics, one of the best defenders in the league. Luke Shaw has finally hit form at left-back and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, while showing defensive deficiencies in his game last season, is the long-term solution at right-back.
Victor Lindelof will remain a decent squad player but has consistently lacked the quality to complete the unit. With Varane, a World Cup and four-time Champions League winner, that changes.
The best players don’t just perform themselves, they make others better. It has been blindingly obvious with Bruno Fernandes over the last 18 months and Varane should have a similar effect at the back. He can have a positive impact on Maguire, Shaw and Wan-Bissaka, while finally having a stable and composed back four could also be a blessing for whoever gets the nod in goal.
Neither David de Gea nor Dean Henderson were flawless last season, yet there could be a calming effect from Varane’s presence that filters back and throughout the rest of the team as well.
Varane might not be the absolute final piece of the overall puzzle, that is likely to come in the shape of a new midfielder or striker whether in what remains of this summer or next year, but he is the last piece for this defence and that is a huge step forward.