Real Madrid announced the signing of young French center back Rapheal Varanes from RC Lens for a fee in the region of 10 million euro. Varane signed a six year contract with Florentino Perez a few days ago, and will join up with the Real Madrid first team for pre-season training in a few weeks. Many people have scratched their heads and said “who”? Others have praised the signing as a smart piece of business for a very promising youngster who should develop in to a very good center back. The signing was recommended by none other than Zinedine Zidane, who compared Varane to Laurent Blanc, current France coach and an excellent libero in his playing days. But there are still a group of people who have never heard of the kid, and I dont blame them, he shot to prominence so fast that he was not on to many peoples radar.

Varane came through the Lens youth academy at a rapid succession, and was playing reserve team football in the French CFA division only starting in 2010, aged 17. He made his debut as a 17 year old, in November of last season, and went on to make 26 total appearance for the Lens first team, with two goals, both from headers, to add to his CV. He also has been capped at u-18 and u-19 level for France, and has been hailed by many as the outstanding center back of a new generation of French footballers. Of course Mahamadou Sakho might have something to say about that, but given Laurent Blanc’s favorable stance towards incorporating young players, Varane will have a shot at the full national team if he continues to progress.

His bio is rather short because he really has only been playing for a short time, but what he has done in that short time has been very impressive. He captained the Lens team already, and put in so many assured displays at center back as well as in the center of midfield that not only were Madrid watching the player, but also Manchester United and the newly wealthy PSG. I only saw him play once, in the game against Lille that Varane shown in. I tuned in to see the likes of Gervinho, Eden Hazard and Yoann Cabaye play, but was delighted to see Varane marshalling Moussa Sow, Ligue 1′s top scorer this past season, so effectively. What impressed me was that despite his obvious physical features, he was a very calm and collected defender, rarely barging in to tackles and comfortable on the ball.

As I said, despite being 18 he is 191 cm tall, which would classify him as a giant in football, given he may grow another few centimeters by the time he is physically mature. He is also a bean poll, but he is strong in the air and on the ground despite his slender build. Quick, with great acceleration and a strong leap, he is the complete physical package. But as I said, it is his calmness in reading the game and his ability to make effective tackles that rarely result in fouls that had impressed so many scouts. He has all the attributes to be a complete center back, and I would say that only Sergio Ramos and Ricardo Carvalho have all of those traits, even though Ramos loves to barge in to players and get in a physical scrap (who doesnt to be honest, its football!). Varane would do well to learn to read the game from the likes of Carvalho, who I think is one of the finest center backs of the past decade, as well as Albiol and Pepe, who have such an imposing physical presence through size, strength and stamina.

Whether he is ready for the first team remains to be seen, but it is said he will most likely bump Garay out of the first team and occupy the fourth center back spot. I see that as a bit of a rush, as with his tender age, he is probably in need of more playing time. A spell with the Castilla team, while unlikely, would be an effective way to introduce the player to Spanish football, as well as the Real Madrid system. A loan back to France would also be interesting, and their were reports that Lille were interested in the player, given he was born there. The preseason training camp and friendlies will dictate where his short term future lays, but with a long campaign, Mourinho may opt to keep him around and gain experience in training before going out on loan. I have my reservations about this, as clearly the career of Sergio Canales has stalled under Mourinho, so you would hate to see the same happen with Varane.

One of the points I wanted to discuss is that this signing seems to continue a change in the recruitment policy at the club. Ten million euros is a hefty sum for an 18 year old with one year of professional football under his belt, considering Nuri Sahin cost only a few euros more and is a far more accomplished player, but I think its well accepted that this was a smart investment. Buying younger players when they are relatively cheaper than say Ronaldo was (every player is cheaper than Ronaldo, except maybe Messi) and then having them in amongst the team for awhile is always a smart play. It did not quite work out for the likes of Drenthe or Gago, but it did for Higuain and Marcelo, so there is a precedent for this. For all the criticism that the Real Madrid transfer policy gets, there have been several shrewd signings littered in amongst the big names. Again, Canales can be considered in this category, even if he did not have the strongest debut campaign.

It seems (I am not going out on a ledge just yet) that Perez in indeed looking at the old Santiago Bernabeu model of “a third of the best from Spain, a third of the best from the world and a third of the best from the cantera”. With Granero, Casillas, Adan, Arbeloa and now Callejon, we have some of the best canteranos (although some others were not looked at, like Parejo or Valero) as well as a few players on the fringes of the team, such as Sarabia, Morata, Nacho and Alex. We also have some of the best players in Spain, such as Albiol, Ramos, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Canales. And finally there are the stars, such as Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema, Higuain, Ozil and Pepe. It is a well rounded transfer policy, even if the stars transfer fees seem gargantuan compared to the relatively cheap fees for the Spanish players or the almost free canteranos. A very in depth article on the financial pros and cons of the Real Madrid transfer policy can be found here on Swiss Ramble.

While it is pleasing to see Real returning to the ’1/3′ rule, as well as looking all over for some of the most talented players, it also indicates that there is still a lack of trust in the cantera. A fourth or fifth center back spot could clearly be occupied by the likes of Mateos, or someone from the C or Castilla teams instead of a ten million euro signing. While Varane’s signing is seen as a positive for the future, it further limits any opportunity for a young player from the cantera to make it to the first team in that position. This has often been the case with Real signings, with Sahin a clear reason why Parejo was not redeemed, and Benzema shuttering any chance Negredo had at a career with Real. But that may be overly cynical in this specific instance, because the Varane signing may just be of utmost importance. It is a dirty little secret in the club that will the youth system has continued to produce exciting players, whether they see game time with Real or not, they have had great difficulty in producing central defenders for quite some time.

Looking at the Castilla team of this past season, you will see that of the available center backs, none of them had been with the team more than two seasons. In fact three of the four were new to the team this past season, with Juanan having been there for a bit longer. While Real has two very exciting prospects in Nacho and Dani Caravajal, they are left and right backs respectively, and there has not been a player to come from the Juvenil teams and make an impression with the Castilla team at center back for a few years now. In fact I can only name Mateos and Agus as having had any impact on the first team in the past two years, and both were severely limited. In fact, I believe Agus was brought in from Celta Vigo as a 19 year old, so he would not even qualify. Paco Pavon and Alvaro Mejia are the last name I can remember coming through to the first team and making more than a handful of appearances for the first team, but they both debuted close to a decade ago.

So while Varane may be viewed as just another player we have brought in to block the progress of a youngster, keep in mind that the Real Madrid academy remains relatively weak in the center back position. Derik Osede remains a great promise, but he is two years younger than Varane, so there is still time for him.

I am very excited to see what Varane can do, but also cautious because the next season or two will be crucial to his development. If he ends up stuck on the bench or the training pitch, he may never realize his great potential, involved in a similar situation as Garay, who I think has regressed since joining Real two seasons ago. Only time will tell for Varane, but we none the less welcome him to Real Madrid. HALA MADRID and HALA VARANE!