Pogba, the lad built like a lamppost and bought from Le Havre, had just graced Anfield, Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford in an FA Youth Cup-winning campaign. The word from the United French scout David Friio was Varane, the club’s next intended Gallic capture, was more Pogba than Obertan.
Seven years later, Pogba and Varane were standing side by side in the Saint Petersburg Stadium dressing room, damp with sweat, the grass cuttings still stuck to their legs and their kits muddied. France had reached the World Cup final and the roaming camera fixed on the euphoric pair, complimentary about one another.
Pogba and Varane were promoted to the national team squad simultaneously in March 2013 and roomed with each other. Varane had already made the squad for a friendly with Uruguay seven months earlier and was unused by Didier Deschamps but Pogba recognised him as a senior member who would look out for him.
Pogba gravitated towards Varane, born 41 days later in 1993 and intrepid enough to move abroad as a teenager. Ever the extrovert, Pogba joked he would look after Varane after the Real Madrid defender had shown him the ropes.
Varane and Pogba debuted in the same game, a World Cup qualifying win against Georgia at the Stade de France, when Pogba had just celebrated his 20th birthday. Pogba has 84 caps and Varane 79. Both have only ever played under Deschamps for Les Bleus.
“When you say he is a teammate, he is a true teammate. We progress together,” Pogba said. It was Pogba’s dressing room team-talk that went viral following France’s victory over Croatia in the Luzhniki Stadium. With the scoreline a tight 2-1 at the pause, Varane shouted over Deschamps, walking past his comrades and banging on the table like a general.
Varane warned them they were ‘getting hung up’ and told his teammates to stop overthinking. Pogba, sat down and his shirt off, rubbed his hands thoughtfully. In the second-half, France cut loose and were 4-1 up within 20 minutes of the restart.
Pogba and Varane had already assigned each other nicknames. Varane was the ‘water – the storm’, and Pogba ‘the fire’ as he ‘burns it up’. They are descriptions befitting a superhero character poster and, however fleeting a period anyone has spent in their company, there is a superhuman presence about Pogba and Varane.
Jose Mourinho, Varane’s first coach at Madrid, ruefully wondered whether the kid was shy or intelligent. On Varane’s first day of training with Madrid at the age of 19, Cristiano Ronaldo bumptiously addressed ‘Varane’ and told him to go in the middle for a rondo session. “It’s Rapha,” came the reply.
Varane had to bide his time in a squad with the hired goons of Sergio Ramos and Pepe at centre half but his cold attitude made success an inevitability to Mourinho and those who trained with him at Valdebebas.
“I think he is there,” Mourinho said, raising his hand to signal the top. “And he will stay there.”
Mourinho was struck by how headstrong Varane was at such a callow age. Varane hired a Spanish teacher before Madrid had arranged one for him and he adapted effortlessly to life in the capital. It helped Varane was in a settled relationship with Camille, now his wife and mother to their two children.
The sight of Mourinho and Zinedine Zidane made up Varane’s mind. He was not in awe of Ronaldo but was starstruck when Zinedine Zidane called him from a withheld number to turn Varane’s head with Sir Alex Ferguson en route to Lille.
Varane recognised the voice and thought it was a prank. Zidane assured him it wasn’t and Varane spontaneously explained he was busy and hung up. The giddy teenager immediately told his brother who he had just received a call from.
With Zidane no longer at Madrid, the only club dressing room Varane and Pogba are likely to share is in Manchester. In a summer where five United players have endured defeat in the European Championship and Copa America finals, the sight of two World Cup winners at Carrington would be welcomed.
Mourinho, who coveted a centre half in his last summer with United, is of the opinion they have to be Champions League contenders if they supplement Harry Maguire with Varane. It is still unclear how long Pogba intends to stay in Manchester and Mino Raiola only has 47 days to secure an exit route.
With the authority of two World Cup winners flanked by world-class defenders in Maguire and Luke Shaw, as well as a formidable attack, those United supporters who click through the turnstiles next month are not settling for a top four finish.
When Varane reported for France duty at Clairefontaine on the eve of the last World Cup, he received a round of applause from teammates and staff, having recently embraced the European Cup again. Samuel Umtiti, Varane’s partner in the France XI and adversary with Barcelona, asked Varane if he was tired of winning.
“We are still hungry for it,” he promised. United need that hunger.
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