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Manchester United may finally have the chance to rectify one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s big regrets from his time as Old Trafford boss, thanks to Chelsea missing out on a free transfer for David Alaba this week.
News broke on Wednesday confirming what has long been expected, that the Austrian defender will join up with Real Madrid in the summer transfer window as a free agent.
Alaba will swap Bayern Munich for Real Madrid after 13 years in Bavaria but had been looked at by Chelsea as the Blues look to bolster their back-line, particularly given he is out of contract and was available without a transfer fee.
Marina Granosvkaia and co. will have to look elsewhere now though with Alaba lured to the Bernabeu, where he appears likely to act predominantly as a centre-back with Ferland Mendy a near permanent fixture at left-back.
And if Alaba is seen as a centre-half by Zinedine Zidane in the Spanish capital, that may well free up Raphael Varane – also on Chelsea’s radar – for a move.
The Frenchman is out of contract in 2022 and it is thought Los Blancos would prefer to sell him this summer than lose him on a free in less than 18 months’ time, if he does not sign a new deal.
Varane is open to a new challenge and he could certainly be enticed to United, who will have Champions League football to offer and can improve upon the wages he gets in Spain, where he earns around £150,000 a week.
The World Cup-winning centre-half is an asset who could fetch a fee of over £50million despite his contract situation given he is one of the finest in his position in Europe.
And Real Madrid, who are keen on signing Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, desperately need money after the failure of the European Super League.
Club president Florentino Perez has openly admitted that Real Madrid find themselves in a “very bad” financial situation, which he had been hoping to help fix with the formation of a new breakaway league which was crushed on Tuesday.
Varane is one of several centre-back targets for the Red Devils as they look to provide captain Harry Maguire with a more dependable partner and give Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side the defensive foundations to truly launch a full-scale title tilt.
And bringing Varane to United would see the club’s hierarchy, under fire for their involvement in the failed Super League project, do what they couldn’t with Ferguson at the helm in 2012.
“I hurtled down on the train from Euston to Lille to sign the young French defender Raphael Varane,” Ferguson wrote in his 2015 book Leading of his attempts to sign the player.
“David Gill was getting into the finer points of the contract with Lens when Zinedine Zidane got wind of this and somehow scooped him up for Real Madrid from under our noses.”
And speaking to L’Equipe in October 2014, Varane explained of his decision to pick Real Madrid over United: “Manchester United? They had just signed Phil Jones in my position.”
Ex-United boss Jose Mourinho, the Real Madrid manager at the time Varane was signed, also said the same month: “Varane had one foot at Manchester United but Real Madrid are very strong and Rapha came to us.”
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Ferguson famously claimed of Jones: “Jones, arguably the way he is looking, could be our best ever player. I think Jones may be one of the best players we have ever had, no matter where we play him.”
That prediction of course backfired, and while Jones has racked up 224 first-team appearances at Old Trafford, he has never come close to world-class status, unlike Varane.
The 27-cap England international, 29, is widely expected to depart United this summer having made just two Premier League starts since May 2019.
Varane meanwhile is widely regarded as one of the very best central defenders on the continent and the 27-year-old, who turns 28 this Sunday, has won 18 trophies in Madrid including four Champions Leagues and three La Liga titles, also reigning supreme on the international stage with France.
And he would be a top-class partner to Maguire at United as they look to shore up a defence that has conceded 35 goals in 32 league games this term, 12 more than leaders Manchester City and one less than they leaked in 38 matches last season.
While Ferguson will argue Jones’ promise at Blackburn and impressive start at United meant his acquisition made plenty of sense, in hindsight he will admit that he should have prioritised the addition of Varane – who United also sought to sign in 2019 thanks to long-standing interest.
Yet United can finally put that mistake in the past by signing him this summer, and the France international is the level of player who can help form a title-winning Red Devils defence in the 2021-22 campaign.
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