Raphael Varane's sad Man Utd decline: From Real Madrid legend to Jonny Evans' back-up

“Manchester United is one of the most iconic clubs in world football and the chance to come here and play in the Premier League is something I couldn’t turn down. I want to make an impact here and I will give everything to become part of this club’s illustrious history.”

Raphael Varane sounded like a man motivated to add another trophy-laden entry to his illustrious career when he was unveiled as a United player in August 2021. The club invested £40 million ($49m) in the 28-year-old after his decision to reject a new contract at Real Madrid, which felt like a shrewd piece of business at the time.

After 10 seasons, 360 appearances, four Champions League titles and three La Liga crowns, Varane left Santiago Bernabeu as a Real legend. But the Spanish giants haven't missed him. Los Blancos stormed to a league and European double in their first season without Varane, who must have secretly regretted leaving after a disastrous debut year at Old Trafford. He struggled to adapt to life in English football and battled niggling injuries as United fell to sixth in the Premier League.

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The appointment of Erik ten Hag sparked a return to form for Varane in 2022-23, though, as he forged a formidable partnership with new signing Lisandro Martinez. That solid foundation at the back was crucial as the Red Devils returned to the Champions League places while also ending a five-year trophy drought with success in the Carabao Cup.

Despite entering his 30s, Varane was still proving he could deliver at the highest level and deservedly had a guaranteed place in Ten Hag's starting XI. But in the space of just a few months, that dynamic has completely changed.

The World Cup winner has suddenly dropped to fourth in United's centre-back pecking order, and can't even get in the team ahead of Jonny Evans - the 35-year-old warhorse who re-joined the club on a surprise free transfer in the summer window. Varane doesn't have any cause to complain, either.

United now look like a more cohesive unit in Varane's absence, and it's difficult to see any way back for him. So what exactly has gone so wrong for the former Madrid talisman?