First Ramos, now Varane: Real Madrid's crumbling decay highlighted by defensive departures

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With Raphael Varane heading to Manchester United, Real Madrid are losing the one truly world-class centre-back they had left in yet another sign of the club’s slow slip towards decay.

Captain and icon Sergio Ramos had already joined Paris Saint-Germain earlier in the summer, and now his partner is ending an era in the Spanish capital, having spent a decade in Madrid white.

Carlo Ancelotti will be left without the France defender, who leaves with legend status, having won four Champions Leagues and three La Liga titles as part of an overall haul of 18 trophies.

He is the player who has lifted the eighth-most trophies in the club’s history; an elegant, lightning-fast defender who proved Ramos’ ideal companion at the heart of the defence.

Varane’s speed and anticipation helped save the team on countless occasions, recovering after mistakes made higher up the field or by Ramos himself.

He ended up, though, with only 14 yellow cards and two reds in 236 Liga games, a remarkably low tally for a centre back, in stark contrast to Ramos’s 160 yellows in 508 games, with 20 red cards.

Varane departing in the same summer as Ramos is a blow for Real Madrid, and another signal of their financial woes. They are not in as shambolic a state as rivals Barcelona, but Madrid’s spending, or lack of it, highlights the caution president Florentino Perez has needed to exercise.

Since signing Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez in 2014 for around €80 million (£63m/$107.5m), Madrid had not spent more than €45m on a player until the summer of 2019, when they moved for Chelsea’s Eden Hazard.

It was a move driven by desperation to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, whom they badly missed, and it backfired with the Belgium forward spending most weekends on the treatment table instead of the pitch.

Varane leaving Madrid, then, is part of their trend towards taking decisions that ensure their survival, rather than being an optimised move in terms of sporting success.

Raphael Varane Real Madrid Man Utd

Although the Frenchman, 28, was not at his very best last season, he is still one of the planet’s elite defenders and had a home at Santiago Bernabeu.

Varane’s contract expires in June 2022 and he was not keen on extending his deal. In part, because Madrid did not want to pay him the €12m (£10m/$14m) a season he wanted, but also so he could look elsewhere for adventure and new experiences.

A scorned Madrid, in mitigation, will point towards the performances of Nacho Fernandez and Eder Militao last season, with the duo excelling in the injury absence of Varane and Ramos, particularly at Anfield in their Champions League quarter-final against Liverpool.

They also have David Alaba arriving, with the Austria star capable of playing at centre-back, where he was deployed this summer at the European Championship, but he is thought to want a role higher up the pitch.

Madrid may also consider this a good time to be at a lower ebb, given Barcelona’s situation. The Catalans are not in great shape either, and the battle for La Liga seems an even fight again, with reigning champions Atletico Madrid perhaps the favourites.

Ancelotti, as a managerial choice by Perez, seems to be a temporary one, a safe pair of hands in reaction to Zinedine Zidane’s departure and Massimiliano Allegri turning the job down. 

It is hard to imagine Ancelotti forming a new long-term project at the club, and regardless of results, Perez might still have an eye on PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino for next summer and beyond.

Varane leaving can be part of a wider refresh, even though, of all the multiple Champions League winners at the club, he seemed best placed to guide the club into their new era.

Raphael Varane Real Madrid GFX

The ex-Lens youngster could have become the main man at the back, no longer in Ramos’s shadow. While Luka Modric is in the twilight of his career, Marcelo is past his best, Isco is a shadow of what he was, and Dani Carvajal is worryingly injury-prone, from the core of the team only Varane and Casemiro could realistically form part of the next five years at the club.

The idea that Varane might leave has been brewing for some time, so supporters are not entirely unprepared for this moment, but they are still upset by his pending departure.

Madrid fans see Manchester United as taking one their key players at a bargain price, while leaving their squad significantly weakened. Youngsters Jesus Vallejo and Victor Chust have not fully convinced as back-ups to Militao and Nacho.

“Selling heritage or letting it escape is something that a Madridista is not used to, I grew up with a powerful Madrid with buying power,” wrote Tomas Roncero in AS. “Losing them both in one summer feels like I’ve suffered a head injury.”

However, Varane’s contract situation and reluctance to renew was always going to lead to a decision being made on his future this summer. He had just one year remaining on his deal, so selling him now at least brings a welcome injection into the club’s suffering coffers.

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The world saw how desperate Perez was to launch the European Super League, to find new streams of revenue to help the club keep their top stars while signing others, to keep the good times rolling and fuel dreams of luring Kylian Mbappe. For now, the only clubs capable of that kind of signing seem like Manchester City and PSG.

As things stand, Los Blancos are not set to dip into the transfer market to replace Varane, with medium-term targets Jules Kounde and Pau Torres likely too expensive.

Madrid’s financial state instead means the club is slowly crumbling, with Varane’s departure another sign of it.