Real Madrid is Sergio Ramos’ club. Cristiano Ronaldo might have been the greatest player the Santiago Bernabeu has ever witnessed over nine years in the Spanish capital, but Ramos is the one who has come to embody the character of Los Blancos. He is more than just club captain, he is Real Madrid’s spiritual leader.
That remains the case to this day, but Ramos has this season been usurped by Raphael Varane as Real Madrid’s defensive bedrock. While the 33-year-old’s game has regressed, becoming more prone to errors, Varane’s continues to improve to the point where he is now his team’s predominant presence at the back.
After a difficult start to the season, Zinedine Zidane has got his side on the straight and narrow over the past few months, with Real Madrid currently tied on points with Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Momentum seems to be with the capital side, underlined by their Spanish Supercopa triumph just two weeks ago.
Varane’s form has been a major factor in this upturn, with the Frenchman finally fulfilling the potential he has demonstrated for a number of years. For someone who has won it all, including multiple Champions League titles and a World Cup, it’s remarkable that Varane could still go to another level. Now 26, there are signs this season that he is doing just that.
The Santiago Bernabeu is an unforgiving place to play football (just ask Gareth Bale) and Varane faced criticism earlier in his career. That only seems to have hardened his mindset though and should serve him well as he replaces Ramos as the heart and soul of Real Madrid. “It's a different kind of pressure,” he explained in a recent interview with AS. “Every day, there are numerous newspapers, television and radio programmes, etc. And what happens in Madrid often has repercussions all over the world. They're global.”
Varane’s physical attributes make him the perfect centre back for the modern game. The Frenchman is good on the ball, is quicker than most attackers and at 6ft 2” is physically imposing. But it’s in the mind where great Real Madrid players are made and Varane appears to boast the right personality too. There are few as composed as he is.
Frequently linked with a big-money move to the Premier League, it now seems unlikely that Real Madrid will ever let Varane leave. More than Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, Fede Valverde or anyone else billed as the club’s next big thing, he embodies the future at a time of transition for Los Blancos.