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Real Madrid, Gareth Bale and why it’s not just about the football

At the Santiago Bernabeu, the stage is literally set for what could be the unveiling of the world’s most-expensive footballer. Gareth Bale’s proposed move from Tottenham to Real Madrid has understandably monopolised recent back pages as fans await the conclusion of a transfer saga that has left many questioning the financial implications of the reported £85 million deal.

Aside from the moral qualms many have about such an astronomical figure, most fans have been left querying whether Bale is worth the record-breaking fee. The Welshman is a phenomenal footballer on a par with other Premier League heavyweights; Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Yet these players aren’t nearly attracting the astronomical figures to their names as Bale. Robin van Persie, last season’s top goalscorer, was bought for a measly £22.5 million last year. One of the finest all-round English players of the last decade, Wayne Rooney, was only recently valued at a mere £25 million by Chelsea. Luis Suarez, scorer of 30 goals last season, has attracted massive offers from Arsenal but that famous 40 million and a one pound pales in comparison to the reported Bale fee.

The residing question then is this: what exactly are Madrid up to? Gareth Bale is undoubtedly a superb footballer. Not even the most ardent of Arsenal fans would question that. For club and country, the midfielder scored 31 goals last term. He single-handedly won games for his team in sublime fashion on more than a handful of occasions. These are facts that nobody can deny. They are also facts that fans of Manchester United (Rooney and van Persie) and Liverpool can boast of their stars yet no record transfer fee hangs over the heads of these players. Real Madrid president Florentine Perez obviously sees value in the Welshman and is willing to part with £85 million to prove it.

Real Madrid are no strangers to blockbuster signings. In 2001 it was Zinedine Zidane (a then world record £45.6 million). In 2009, it was Kaka (another world record of around £56m) and then Cristiano Ronaldo (yet another world record fee of £80 million). At a cheaper, but no less significant, level they signed David Beckham from Manchester United in 2003 for £24.5 million.

Real Madrid is unashamedly a brand and each of the players mentioned slotted perfectly into the on-going mission to solidify the Galácticos as the largest global brand in football. Through sponsorships and worldwide touring Madrid have become the most recognised football club on the planet.

Gareth Bale

With Beckham they acquired Europe’s most valuable sporting personality. From the very beginning of his Spanish adventure David Beckham was helping his new club recoup the money they had dished out on him – even his medical was sponsored by a health-care firm. Add this to multi-million pound Adidas deal to match Madrid’s and a merchandising agreement that reportedly had Beckham handing 50% of his personal sponsorship earnings to Madrid then it is safe to say that the Spanish giants have an idea of how to spend money to make money.

‘Brand Madrid’ seek players that are able to enhance not just their on-field success but also that off it. Jose Mourinho’s managerial credentials need no clarification yet he was considered surplus to requirements at Madrid as his controversial antics were just not in keeping with the angelic sheen of the nine-time European Cup winners. When Mourinho was seen to poke then Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye the Spanish press called it ‘deplorable’. Not an image football’s biggest commercial club wished to convey.

Madrid were often linked to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez this summer, a player with statistics that at times outshine Bale’s, yet this interest never gathered any momentum and it can only be assumed that this is down to the tainted image of the Uruguayan. Like Mourinho, Suarez is capable of too much brand-damaging controversy to justify spending such amounts of money regardless of his talent.

Just a quick glance at Real Madrid’s history of signings provides a clearer picture of why they are willing to spend such an enormous amount on a clean-cut, fresh faced, superstar in the making. In Bale, Madrid have a young star in the making that they will be able to mould and shape to fit their own needs. In Madrid, Bale has a platform to expand his own brand. It was not so long that it was revealed Bale was attempting to trademark his heart-shaped goal celebration – he is clearly aware of the benefits of building his own brand beyond the game and the benefits of a Madrid move will not be lost on the 24-year-old.

Even on a brand-building level, Bale at such a price will still be seen as a gamble for Madrid. Unlike, Zidane, Kaka, Ronaldo or Beckham, he is not a pre-packaged global star just waiting to become a shirt-selling machine. He doesn’t yet transcend sport like, say, Beckham did. The more cynical of supporters will assume the long drawn-out pursuit of Bale by Madrid is merely a clever marketing ploy to allow the world time to catch up and get to know the world’s most expensive footballer-elect before the eventual finalities are complete.

Simply by being attached to such lucrative and high-profile transfers in recent history, Real Madrid have ensured their names in both the history books and newspapers all around the world; the Gareth Bale situation is no different. Madrid are being talked about by football fans and non-fans alike the world over, and that is just the way the like it as the brand continues to flourish with the latest star commodity preparing his keepy-up skills for the big Bernabeu reveal.

by Jack Poland

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Arsenal fans don’t get your hopes up – Ozil and Di Maria are going nowhere

Arsene Wenger’s search for new players to bolster an Arsenal squad on its bare bones has led to rumours that the Gunners could move for Mesut Ozil and/or Angel Di Maria. Don’t bet on either of these players turning out for the north London side any time soon.

Yes, Real Madrid are on the verge of signing Gareth Bale for a world record transfer fee and yes they have already signed a couple of other players too. But it is in the Spanish capital city club’s psyche to have more players than they need.

Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria

Ozil is a massively important player for Carlo Ancelotti’s men as is the main player in the squad that offers understated creativity and guile. With Bale set to play on the left and Cristiano Ronaldo through the middle, Di Maria will fight it out with Isco for a place on the right wing.

Arsenal will no doubt sign a player or two before the transfer window closes, but it sure won’t be either of these two.

Why Paulinho should choose Tottenham over Real Madrid

Tottenham and Real Madrid seem intertwined this summer when it comes to the transfer market. We all know about the Gareth Bale saga but recently Real have also emerged as suitors for Spurs’ midfield target, the Brazilian Paulinho. It looks increasingly like Paulinho may choose Spurs, and if he does it would be an excellent decision. Not only that, but perversely for Spurs’ fans he would actually be doing Real Madrid a favour if he decides to move to London. With Real Madrid making big statements about Bale having to request a transfer and previous tension over similar tactics with Luka Modric last year, Spurs losing Paulinho to Real would near enough set Bale’s future at Spurs in stone. If Real pinched what looks like Spurs’ number one transfer target, it would only harden the already tough resolve of chairman Daniel Levy to keep his star Welshman.

Paulinho

As far as Paulinho is concerned though, a move to Spurs is a better idea than Madrid. Paulinho needs to be playing first-team football in this year of the Brazilian World Cup to keep his place in the team. He’ll get that at Spurs, but not necessarily at Real Madrid. At Spurs, the only player of a similar type is Mousa Dembele. Paulinho drives through midfield with authority, has a nice range of passing and has also shown that he can score goals as well as being defensively tenacious. He is a complete modern midfielder, able to do everything Spurs need of him in the Premier League. It would depend on what system Spurs are going to be playing next year as to whether he is in a two or three man midfield, but he has all the tools to play with Sandro and Dembele is some combination. He would immediately become the main man, the guaranteed starter.

At Real Madrid this would not be the case. Real’s personnel means they are likely to play a 4-2-3-1 system in which Paulinho would have to compete for one of the two spots deep in midfield. Real already have Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Luka Modric that they are struggling to find game time for. As the new man Paulinho would probably start at the back of that particular queue and may not be able to force himself in to view in the major games. The glamour of Real Madrid is an enticing prospect, but the reality can be very harshly different. When even the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Mesut Ozil are struggling to get in to the first team despite years of Champions League experience, it will be hard for Paulinho to swan straight in to the side.

Spurs are trying to show that they are serious about getting in to the top four once more. Over the last few years they have made some real quality signings for good value. However, this summer it is important that they are making the signings without having to sell anyone. Although he hasn’t shown any sign of wanting to leave, it is still vital that Spurs show Bale that they are doing everything they can to get back to the Champions League, and Paulinho would be a great start.

Would Tottenham rather have Gareth Bale or £100 million?

After another season missing out on Champions League qualification, Tottenham are looking down the barrel and could potentially be ready to lose their best player. Gareth Bale had an outstanding campaign for the north London side, winning the PFA Player and Young Player of the Year awards, and proving himself as one of the most devastating attackers in the European game.

Rightly so, Bale has been linked with a number of top clubs, with Real Madrid thought to be ready to spend a world record transfer amount on the Wales international. The 23-year-old has so many positive assets. His physical attributes such as speed, agility and strength make him difficult to play against, while his delivery and shooting are excellent. He has added a real goalscoring threat to his game, and is also good in the air. There is little wonder that Bale is being compared to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Gareth Bale

Bale has been pivotal in proving the spark needed to win games for Spurs this term. He has scored last-gasp goals on a number of occasions to turn one point into three, and the side looks galvanised and confident with him at his best. Tottenham also need players that can hold their nerve and have the ability to deal with stress in big games, and would excel at the Strongbow penalty challenge when put under pressure. It is this winning mentality and ability to play to your best under pressure that could be the difference between a top four place or not.

Should Madrid offer Tottenham a new world record fee of close to £100 million, it would be a real boost to the club financially, and Andre Villas-Boas would be able to bring in four or five really top-class players to boost other areas of the team. However, whether Bale could be replaced is another matter. There are few players in world football with the attributes that he possesses, and as such Tottenham would lose a great deal of their cutting edge, even with new additions.

Spurs have consistently sold top players in recent years when a bigger club comes knocking. Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric have all jumped ship when given the opportunity. This is an opportunity for Tottenham to state their intentions of consistently challenging for the top four, and more. If they keep Bale and strengthen with one or two good players in the summer, there is no reason Spurs won’t finish in the top four next season. If they sell Bale, despite the money they would receive, the club could struggle without their main man.

Will Isco choose Manchester City over Real Madrid?

Malaga’s 21-year-old attacking midfielder Isco is one of the most-wanted young players in Europe. His blend of guile, technique and swiftness is a captivating mix for teams facing increasingly rigid and structured defences in the Champions League and need someone like Isco who can give his attacking side a different method of breaking through. With this is mind, the battle lines seem to be being drawn between Manchester City and Real Madrid. Both teams would have different attractions for him and both are legitimate suitors. He seems willing to consider both, so who might he choose and why?

On the surface Manchester City have some advantages. First, and most talked about, is the presence of new manager Manuel Pellegrini. It was under Pellgerini that Isco transformed himself from dominating Valencia B team player to a La Liga star. When Santi Cazorla left Malaga last summer, Pellegrini trusted the then 20 year old Isco to take over from him as the team’s main playmaker. He rewarded him with 12 goals and five assists. He personally credits Pellegrini for his rapid ascension to star status. However, there is a danger that this link is being overplayed.

Isco

For a player to change club based solely on the manager is very risky. Short of joining Arsenal or Sir Alex Ferguson’s Man United, there is no guarantee that the manager who is there when the player signs will still be there at the end of a four or five year contract. This is very true of City who have, for various reasons, sacked two managers in the last few years. Obviously Real Madrid aren’t exactly a managerial paradise but he wouldn’t be moving there because of one. He may consider it but it is unlikely to be the foundation of a decision.

The bigger advantage to joining City will be that he is far more likely to be guaranteed first team football, which is very important in World Cup year. Spain have the best squad in world football so it will be hard enough for him to get a place even if he starts every game, never mind if he is rotated. Despite their wealth, City are not yet in a position where spending £30m on a player can be justified if he’s sat on the bench. Real have the likes of Benzema and Modric who cost over that and aren’t sure-fire picks.

Above the fee, City also have less competition for a first team place. Silva and Navas are probably sure of their starts but unless they sign Edinson Cavani with a plan to move Aguero back in to attacking midfield, there is another spot to be won. Isco could come in to the number 10 role at City and make it his own. At Real Madrid he already has Mesut Ozil and Luka Modric for competition and they are trying to sign Gareth Bale. Cristiano Ronaldo’s spot is set in stone and Gareth Bale’s would be if he was signed for £85m. It would mean four players, including Angel Di Maria and maybe even Kaka if he stays, are trying to fit in to one spot.

Isco wouldn’t be the first young Spanish player Real have signed and benched. Callejon, De Leon, Canales and Raul Albiol have all come in and not made the team. Isco cannot afford the same fate.

The challenge for City though, is that Real Madrid are Real Madrid. Despite all the history of benched young Spaniards the challenge of becoming a star in Madrid could be too much of a temptation for Isco. The white shirt has a certain prestige and if he is full of self belief, the prospect of making himself successful there will have a real pull.

City have the advantage of first-team football and a platform for him to win a World Cup spot but if Real Madrid give him the chance to play it could be too much of a temptation to pass up.

Tottenham’s AVB to PSG? Should he stay or should he go? It all depends on Bale

Real Madrid are not going to be popular with Spurs fans this summer. Not only are they actively courting their star man Gareth Bale but they may now also be responsible for them losing their manager Andre Villas-Boas. Real’s first choice to succeed Jose Mourinho as manager is PSG boss Carlo Ancelotti, and Ancelotti hasn’t hidden his desire to take up the offer. If he goes, PSG will need a new manager, and with their own first choice Guus Hiddink committing to another season in Russia the French champions have turned their attention to Villas-Boas. It is conceivable that Real Madrid may even cost Spurs both Bale and AVB. In fact, one may cause the other.

Andre Villas-Boas came to Spurs last summer with plenty to prove after his disastrous spell at Chelsea ended in disarray and sacking. He had been the hottest managerial name in Europe in the summer of 2011, fresh from an unbeaten and Europa League winning season with Porto and as one of the Jose Mourinho stable he had impeccable pedigree. However, by 2012 his reputation was sullied, seemingly unable to impose himself on the Chelsea dressing room that he had once been a mere analyst to. It was therefore a big leap of faith from Spurs to appoint him, and to essentially sack Harry Redknapp in order to do so. He was very grateful to the club for trusting him and he repaid them with fifth place and a points total that would have guaranteed Champions League qualification in most seasons. He took Gareth Bale from star to megastar and helped turn Jan Vertonghen in to one of the signings of the season. He did a great job at Spurs, and his reputation is quickly regathering, particularly in light of his work with Bale.

André Villas-Boas

This has made him a desirable proposition for PSG. They have their own burgeoning megastar in Lucas Moura who they will feel AVB can teach and coach up in the way he did with Bale. PSG invested nearly £40m in the young Brazilian so they need to get the most out of him and AVB has shown he can do that. The other reason they are turning to him is that they are very big on the ‘project’ in Paris. They want a long-term manager and they want him to win them multiple Champions League titles. Well, Villas-Boas is only 35 and has already shown he can win a European trophy, so he is a very logical choice. PSG play a 4-2-3-1 system, which is what Spurs used last year, so PSG wouldn’t need to overhaul the personnel either. It all makes sense.

The pros to staying at Spurs are that if Bale stays he has one of the best players in the world at his disposal. His job is under absolutely no threat, the club seem willing to commit money to him in the transfer market and they gave him his opportunity to return to management at a major club. He may feel a sense of loyalty.

The cons to staying at Spurs mostly revolve around Bale. If Spurs sell him then despite pocketing a massive transfer fee they would have sold one of the top five players in the world. It’s all well and good signing decent replacements in different positions, but without Bale it will be much harder to get in to the Champions League. This could be something AVB feels he can’t achieve at Spurs. With such congestion at the top of the Premier League, seven teams to fit in to four, three will always miss out and more often than not Spurs would likely be in that three without Bale.

The pros of going to PSG are that he will have a ton of money at his disposal, far more than Spurs could offer. He also would be taking over a better team. Spurs have three elite players, but PSG have twice that. They are near enough guaranteed to get in to the Champions League every year, which then gives him an opportunity to win it. PSG seem willing to be patient with a manager.

The cons to moving to PSG are that the club has only had success so far. If, as is likely, they struggle to make an impact on the market this year despite their money and don’t progress in Europe the patience of the ownership would be tested. They haven’t had to experience a negative outcome yet. If he did fail he would have failed at two of the richest clubs in the world, pretty much ending his chances of getting another go somewhere else.

It would be a big decision for AVB to make. If Spurs keep Gareth Bale and add to their squad he should stay. No one in the Premier League has a player like Bale so with the right additions they could even compete to win the league. If they sell Bale he should go to PSG where he would have more chance at winning regularly.

Manchester United and Chelsea should be in for Gonzalo Higuain

If you were to list the best ten strikers in the world off the top of your head, where would Gonzalo Higuain come? Probably nowhere. And yet, he has been the starting striker for Real Madrid for seven years, in which time he has managed to score 107 goals in 187 games, which makes him the club’s 11th highest scorer of all time. He has scored 20 goals in 32 games for Argentina and was their first choice at the last World Cup, arguably only losing his status as that to accommodate Lionel Messi more centrally and because he is not as glamorous as Sergio Aguero or Carlos Tevez. He’s done all of this already, and is only 25 years old. Whether it is because he doesn’t seek fame off the pitch or because he is just quietly efficient on it, he doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as the other top strikers. Even rotated around this season he’d have been the joint seventh top scorer in the Premier League with his 15 goals coming in just 27 games. Chelsea have his ex-manager who made him captain joining them, and they badly need a striker. Manchester United are in the process of selling Wayne Rooney, and need a striker. They should be swarming all over him. We are talking about a genuinely world class forward, and he is available this summer.

On Sunday he told reporters that ‘I feel that my time here is over, I want a change…I want to go to another club, new challenges’. Higuain has never been popular in Madrid, and he wants to ‘go where they tell me they love me’. Nowhere quite does player adoration like Old Trafford but after having watched Fernando Torres for nearly three years, Chelsea fans will love him if he keeps scoring at his career rate. Real Madrid are intent on signing Luis Suarez and have not moved to say Higuain cannot leave. He could be available for as little as £20m, which is absolute theft.

Gonzalo Higuain

For Chelsea, the fit with Higuain is obvious. If Jose Mourinho isn’t ready to commit to Romelu Lukaku as his starter, then who better to fill the gap upfront than Higuain. With the chances created by Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar, he could comfortably get 25 goals in the league. He is ready to go, ready to score goals right now. Even if they only had it in mind for him to be the starter for two or three years he would still be the perfect option. He and Edinson Cavani are basically the same standard but with a possible £30m price difference. If Chelsea sign Higuain, who is also a perfect tactical fit, able to hold the ball up nicely and quick enough to cause defenders problems, they could spend their budget on upgrading the central defence, which is a relative chasm compared to the rest of the team.

For Manchester United the fit is a little less obvious as it doesn’t fit an immediate need but he would still be an excellent signing. David Moyes usually played a 4-4-2 type system at Everton but with Wayne Rooney leaving and doubts over the quality of Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck, Higuain could be a perfect foil to Robin van Persie. They would both be as comfortable dropping deep as hanging around the box which would give United extra attacking fluency, and most importantly, goals. Van Persie delivered spectacularly in the league last year but they were reliant on lots of players scoring, rather than players scoring lots. This hindered them in Europe. If Moyes does sell Rooney, then a ready-made, world-class replacement such as Higuain would be ideal.

Higuain has previously spoken of his comfort with playing in England and has the body type and game to adapt easily to the Premier League. He doesn’t look like a player who will take time to acclimatise, and can be bought, put in the team and left to score goals. He wants to be loved and both crowds are known for adoring their heroes no matter what. Chelsea and Manchester United should definitely move in on the cheapest world-class striker on the market.

Is Jose Mourinho the right man to turn Chelsea’s young stars into superstars?

To all intents and purposes Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea has been secured, and there are already questions being asked about the futures of David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres. What’s not being asked so much is what effect the appointment of Mourinho will have on Chelsea’s recent policy of stocking up on young talent. At Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, Mourinho has been much more comfortable working with experienced players, using their already high levels of talent to make and shape his teams. He doesn’t have a record of promoting young players from the youth departments of these clubs at all. He doesn’t have a good record of loaning players and then playing them when they have been improved. He has pretty much built his success on signing ready-made players.

The reason that this could sit incongruously with Chelsea’s recent transfer policy is that he will be overseeing a young first-team squad that has a fully stocked and successful youth squad and an assortment of potentially world-class players out on loan around the world. They have building towards the next couple of seasons for the last three years or so, they have a plan. Despite the circus of managerial changes at first-team level, behind the scenes the player recruitment and development policy has been exemplary. They have been preparing for this season and even more so 2014/15 when the likes of Lukaku, Chalobah, McEachran, Courtois and De Bruyne will be nicely polished up ready for action. Not to mention how good the already sublime Juan Mata and Eden Hazard will be by then and the continued improvements of Cesar Azpilicueta that could make him the starter for Spain at the World Cup.

So where does Jose Mourinho fit in to this policy? Is he really willing to give youth a chance? Can he make them better players than they are at the moment? When you hire Jose Mourinho you agree to buy him players. That’s what happened first time around, and that’s the rumour this time around. He doesn’t rate Torres or Ba, so the talk is of them trying to sign Edinson Cavani or Karim Benzema. They are both readymade, plug and play options. But how about Romelu Lukaku. He has the potential to be one the best in the world given his physical gifts, youth and proven output. If they spend £40-50m on a striker they are not signing him to sit on the bench behind Lukaku. Mourinho will certainly prefer the known package Petr Cech over Thibaut Courtois, who could also turn in to the best in his position.

Jose Mourinho

In his last stint at Chelsea no academy players made the breakthrough to first team level. Inter Milan’s top homegrown starlet, Mario Balotelli, was clashed with and sold on, as were a ream of other young Italians who are now starting around Serie A. Mourinho won the Champions League with a team that averaged over 30 years old. Three years later they finished ninth, having been hamstrung by a squad that got too old all at once. At Real Madrid the likes of Canales, Callejon and Morata showed a lot of promise but were not often utilised. The only young player who got significant game time was Rafael Varane but he broke in due to injury to Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe.

The other cross against Mourinho’s name is his supposed weakness in developing young first team players, taking them on to the next level. This criticism isn’t as fair as that he doesn’t blood young players but there is some credence to it. When he first arrived at Chelsea he improved the likes of Lampard, Terry, Cech and Robben plenty but since then his record is more erratic. Jon Obi-Mikel levelled out as did Salomon Kalou. At Real Mesut Ozil, Marcelo and Higuain haven’t really improved from the level they were at when he arrived. Is it something that he has lost his touch with? As he has become more entrenched in his ways he has found less time to develop players. This is a big concern with Mata, Hazard, Ramires and Azpilicueta. Will he be able to take them on to be amongst the best players in the world?

Mourinho will get Chelsea winning games and probably trophies but he has never played players from his youth teams and has recently struggled to improve players as individuals. He has improved the team concepts and winning mentality of Inter and Real but has left them with problems to deal with long term. Can he use Chelsea’s wealth of young resources this time around?

Wayne Rooney’s options in leaving Manchester United are very limited

Much has been made of the transition at Premier League champions Manchester United. The Old Trafford club will have to come to terms with the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson will no longer be the man in charge, with new boss David Moyes to assume the position next season. However, a key player could also be on his way out in the form of Wayne Rooney. The England international is said to have handed in a transfer request – however realistic options on where the forward could move to are few and far between.

United have stated that Rooney is not for sale, but if the attacker insists on leaving the Premier League champions could well be forced to part with the forward. Those who bet on the Premier League will know that the Old Trafford outfit will be reluctant to sell Rooney to one of their domestic rivals, despite links with Chelsea and Arsenal of late. The favourable odds are on Rooney moving abroad should he leave Manchester United.

The attacker’s salary and the potential transfer fee will also be an issue. Rooney is rumoured to currently earn more than £200,000 per week at Old Trafford, and the number of clubs that could, or would be willing to, come close to offering this are minimal. Add to this a transfer fee likely to be well in excess of £20 million, and Rooney’s purchase is a very expensive one.

Wayne Rooney

Barcelona have been linked with Rooney, but a move to the Camp Nou seems unlikely given the Catalan club’s policy to build from within. Real Madrid are unlikely to be interested, while a move to an Italian club like Juventus would force Rooney to drop his salary considerably. Bayern Munich have the financial means to buy him, but have publicly stated that they are not interested.

Realistically this only really leave Paris Saint-Germain, with betting tips pointing in this direction. A move to the French capital would make sense, as Carlo ancelotti’s men are on the rise, have the financial clout to buy him and have former team-mate David Beckham in their ranks. However, despite PSG having ambitions to become a major force in Europe, Rooney would have to settle for second-rate domestic football in Ligue 1.

Although Rooney may well be unsettled currently, with Moyes coming to the club there is no guarantee that he won’t see the changes at United as an opportunity to reinvigorate his career at Old Trafford. Given the obstacles such as his wages and transfer fee, the lack of big-name suitors and United’s reluctancy to sell to another Premier League club, and Rooney does not have a lot of options.

Raphael Varane – Real Madrid’s new Fernando Hierro

It’s been over 10 years since Real Madrid have been crowned kings of Europe; this maybe doesn’t sound a lot to some, but this club demand and expect European success. Their 7th, 8th and 8th European titles came over a six-year period but it’s been a frustrating wait for the Los Blancos’ fans, who crave that 10th title so badly.

Raphael Varane would have been 10-years-old when Los Merengues last won the UEFA Champions League. There have been some of the world’s best players don the famous white shirt since the last European success, but perhaps the failure to replace central defender Fernando Hierro, who was an integral part in those three European successes over six years, appears to hurt Madrid’s recent European campaigns.

Raphael Varane

Hierro is a Madrid legend. He was the commanding figure in defence who ensured the attacking flair players could fulfil the clubs philosophy demands and  play freely, while he would organise and lead the back line. In his time at the club between 1989 and 2003 he played over 400 games and a major part in the club lifting five La Liga titles and three European cups.

Since Hierro’s departure the club have tried and failed to find another player who possessed such mental and technical qualities. Expensive purchases have been made on Ricardo Carvalho, Sergio Ramos and Pepe; all very good ball playing defenders but all prone to concentration lapses and perhaps would benefit from a commanding centre half beside them. Step forward Raphael Varane.

The Frenchman is only 19-years-old; as a young boy he progressed through the Lens youth academy and made his competitive debut for the club when only 17. After some excellent mature performances for such a young player he attracted the attention of many top clubs. He chose arguably the biggest club in the world to provide his next challenge. He signed for Real Madrid for €10million in 2011, turning down Manchester United, and quickly made his debut in the first team in his debut season. However this season has really seen Varane show his value and perhaps Mourinho’s recent selections suggest he may be first-choice centre half for the remainder of the season and long-term future.

Raphael Varane

So early in his career Varane has already shown real quality and Mourinho already has put faith in his ability by selecting him in all Madrid’s crucial European and domestic matches this season, while expensive more experienced players watch from the bench. He is quick, strong, good in the air, can read the game, a clean tackler; all the attributes required to be a top centre half. He is the one clearing up from whenever his defensive partners have made errors. Dare I say it, he reminds me of Fernando Hierro.

This season Madrid’s defensive set up seems a lot more solid with Varane in the team. Diego Lopez has established himself as number 1 after Iker Casillas’ fall out with Mourinho. Ramos can now attack the ball as he likes to do knowing that Varane will be covering behind him. In front Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira protect the defence and break up the attacks whenever possible and cover for the full backs, who Mourinho likes to push forward. Then it’s up for the attacking four (whoever selected) to show their flair and creativity.

At the moment Varane’s name on the team sheet might not strike fear into the opposition the way Cristiano Ronaldo or Mesut Ozil would, however he may be a major contributor to Los Blancos finally lifting their 10th European Cup, be it this season or in the very near future.

By Sandy White

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