Raphael Varane has won everything in football, from LaLiga Santander, to the Champions League with Real Madrid, and the World Cup with France.
At just 25-years old, the French defender is one of the best defenders around and he sat down with MARCA to discuss a difficult campaign for Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane, and his own future.
Can you take anything positive from this season?
“It’s been very difficult, especially on a mental level, but there are always positives. At times like this you see the character and the real men because nobody can hide. We know each other better, the dressing room didn’t explode and it could have.”
Has the team switched off?
“I don’t think so. There are a lot of factors but I don’t think that’s one of them. We can’t always be on top, it’s impossible to win ten Champions Leagues. Everyone thought three was impossible but we did it, but you can’t always win.”
Without Cristiano Ronaldo, do you really think this team could have won?
“Sure, we started the season very well. Maybe we were even playing better than last year, but the results didn’t come. Life is a balance and negative things can generate more negativity.”
What memories do you have of Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari?
“I have positive memories on a human level. Solari came at a difficult time and Julen had no luck with results. I learnt from both of them. The key week was when we played Barcelona in the Copa del Rey and Ajax. We gave it our all, so we can look each other in the eye. I don’t feel ashamed because the results weren’t ideal, but we fought.”
On an individual level, how has the season been?
“I struggled to start and I wasn’t me. I didn’t feel well, I had no time to rest or prepare for the season. But after a slow start I think I was myself again, but we all suffer when the team struggles. In a season like this it’s hard to judge on an individual level. I know I haven’t had my best season.”
At your age, having won everything, do you still have challenges in Madrid?
“Yes, of course. I’m still young but I think I’ve reached an age where I can combine youth and experience. I’m hoping that next season you’ll see the best Varane yet. I’m going to have a break, which I haven’t had for a long time and I’ll have a full preseason.I think Zinedine Zidane is a coach who can make me even better.”
Not so long ago it was reported that you were thinking and looking for a future away from Madrid. Is it true?
“We’re always thinking, it’s the life of an elite footballer. We always think about improving and being happy. I never relax and always think about what I can do better. Everyone should do that.”
Have you decided to stay?
“I want to remain in Madrid next year. I’m sure we’ll be strong and I’m convinced the season will be a very good one.”
To leave after a season like this would have been an ugly move, don’t you think?
“It would have been sad, but everything has to end some day. It wasn’t my wish to go after a season like this. It would have been very ugly, but it won’t be the case.”
Do you still feel the fans’ respect?
“I think so. I hope I give off the impression that I always try to do my best and my teammates can count on me because I always sweat for the shirt. They know that with me they can win a Champions League or a World Cup and I’m not going to hide.”
Was luck missing, or a cutting edge?
“In life and football sometimes it’s luck that gets you where you end up, and this season we didn’t have it. It’s incredible that we lost some games, but you have to put up with it.”
Zidane left by surprise and returned in the same manner. What are your thoughts?
“We were surprised when he left but we understood. I think his comeback was the best option for the club, and it says a lot about his character. After three Champions Leagues it’s hard to improve on what you’ve done, but it says a lot about his personality and desire to win.”
Will your role at Madrid change?
“I already have responsibility at the club, I’m the fourth captain after eight years here. I don’t have to change my way of being and I give advice to the younger players. It doesn’t scare me to take responsibility, or to be an important part of such a big club. I’ve always stepped forward and I’ll continue to do so.”
You know Paul Pogba well… Do you see him coming to Madrid?
“I can’t say what we speak about, but he’s a great player who could play for Madrid. There’s a lot of competition here, it’s a possibility, we’ll see where he is in August.”
And Eden Hazard?
“I’ve known him since I started at Lens. He’s a top player and he could play for Madrid. He’s in the best run of his career and at his age he has the ability to play here. When we played him in the World Cup we had a special plan to stop him.”
Karim Benzema has taken a step forward as well. Have you been surprised?
“To play for Real Madrid for ten years requires mental strength and ability. He’s very talented. He knows himself well, knows what he has to do and he’s had a good season, maybe the best of his career. I’m very happy for him.”
For you, with LaLiga Santander be the priority?
“As Zidane said, we need more regularity. The Champions League has peaks of excitement, but LaLiga Santander is more constant, more regular, and we want to focus more on it. We’ve never left it aside, but now we have to prioritise it every week.”
You didn’t finish on the podium for the Ballon d’Or. Did that disappoint you?
“I didn’t expect to. I’m very happy for Luke [Modric] who deserves it. A lot of people told me I should have been in the media more, but I’m not like that. That award wouldn’t change me. To win it would be nice but I’m not going to make an effort off the pitch to do it.”
It wasn’t an easy end to the season. Could it have been better?
“We hit the bottom and it’s hard to draw conclusions. It’s very difficult, but it doesn’t have the same value as when we were competing for everything. We want to turn the page and come back with something new.”