Raphael Varane: The Ballon d’Or Dark Horse

Raphael Varane
PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 09: Raphael Varane of France celebrate the victory after the UEFA Nations League A group one match between France and Netherlands at Stade de France on September 9, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)

It’s not easy to forget the year that Raphael Varane has had with France and Real Madrid. Few individuals in history have won four European Cups. Fewer still can say they did it three years in a row. In fact, only some of his Real Madrid teammates can say they’ve done both. Hardly anyone, however, has done both and won the World Cup. Raphael Varane has done all three – and he’s just 25.

The Ballon d’Or Dark Horse

Bucking a Trend

It has been 12 years since Italian defender and captain Fabio Cannavaro won the Ballon d’Or after leading his country to victory at the 2006 World Cup. Cannavaro had had a great year. He had won Serie A with Juventus before they were stripped of their title in the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal. At the World Cup, Cannavaro played every minute of every match in Italy’s road to redemption.

Fast forward 12 years, Raphael Varane did the same for France in their road to a first final since the 2006 defeat to Cannavaro’s Italy. The defender even captained his country in the group stage draw with Denmark this year and has gone on to captain France again in their two UEFA Nations League encounters with Germany and Netherlands post-World Cup.

In 2006, the other contenders were Cannavaro’s fellow Juventus and Italy teammate Gigi Buffon and Arsenal and France star Thierry Henry. The former had achieved the same as Cannavaro while the latter had led the Gunners to their first-ever Champions League final and made important contributions in France’s run to the final of the World Cup. After 2007, when it was won by Kaka, the award has been dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. It may finally be time their ten-year streak and the 12-year run since a defender won the award gets broken.

Living in the Shadows

There should be no doubt that Raphael Varane is a nailed down future captain of Real Madrid. Unless circumstances change drastically, he should be the heir to Sergio Ramos’ armband. Playing alongside Sergio Ramos is no easy task in itself. The Spaniard is an attention magnet and draws admirers and critics wherever he goes. For Varane, this has been both a blessing and a curse.

Rafa Varane may be one of the most undervalued players in the Real Madrid squad. While Ramos gets the plaudits for his all-action, hands-on (and arms-on if you’re Mo Salah) approach to the game, the 25-year old Frenchman goes about his defensive business in a much calmer way. The maturity he has shown in the last few years for Real has been a sight to see. In seven years at the club, Varane has been sent off just once while in the same time span, Ramos has seen red 12 times. His leadership abilities and maturity beyond his 25 years evidence how much confidence a club like Madrid has in him.

Time for a Change

Many have criticised the Ballon d’Or in recent years. Favourites seem to have been played when it comes to the voting. The closest others have come to breaking the Ronaldo-Messi trend was in 2010 when Wesley Sneijder was a hot favourite, and in 2014 when a Manuel Neuer-inspired Germany won the World Cup. Perhaps the time has again come for an unsung and underrated talent for whom the spotlight is not demanded by their fans on social media to take home the Ballon d’Or.

Another player who would be just as deserving as Raphael Varane would be his Real Madrid teammate, Luka Modric. The Croatian shone for his country, helping them reach the World Cup final for the first time in their history. With Cristiano Ronaldo being outshone in the Champions League final and both he and Leo Messi exiting early in Russia, the onus is now on those whose opinions matter to make the right choice.

Two of the other frontrunners are Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Greizmann. Both have shone for club and country this year. However, with all due respect to Ligue 1, Mbappe was not up against quality opposition. The teenage prodigy was also not up against the likes of Ronaldo or Messi playing in opposite teams in Ligue 1. While Greizmann helped Atletico win the Europa League and was instrumental in France winning in Russia, his club underperformed in the league with him performing in patches throughout the season.

Raphael Varane recently even played down his chances of winning the coveted Ballon d’Or. Having won so much at just 25, the question that now needs to be asked is what is required for him to be considered as one of the best and most influential players overall in today’s game, especially in 2018?

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