French centre-back Raphaël Varane (29) has announced his international retirement. The former Real Madrid defender is the third 2018 World Cup winner and 2022 runner-up to hang up his France boots following the retirements of Hugo Lloris (36) and Steve Mandanda (37).
But contrary to the veteran goalkeepers, Varane’s decision comes as a surprise considering he is only 29 and is still playing high-level football with a reinvigorated Manchester United side. On Wednesday, he played 80 minutes of the Red Devils’ Carabao Cup semi-final win against Nottingham Forest, keeping a clean sheet in the process. He played 15 out of a possible 21 Premier League games with the Erik Ten Hag-led outfit.
Of course, news of Varane’s international retirement is music to the ears of the Dutch head coach as it means Manchester United will now be the Frenchman’s only focus. According to Le Parisien, who broke the news of Varane’s international retirement, the Lille-born player is experiencing physical and mental wear and tear and wishes to spend more time with his family.
Meanwhile, with Lloris, Mandanda and now Varane out of the picture, French national team boss Didier Deschamps will miss another leading and vocal presence in the dressing room. Les Bleus’ boss gave Varane his first armband at only 21, in 2014 when Hugo Lloris was absent. “I did not hesitate because he showed leadership, in his way, upon the squad. Rapha is an effective relay, responsible to the collective and to its values“, reacted Deschamps. The 93-cap centre-back was seen as a natural candidate to be handed over the captaincy following the retirement of the Tottenham goalkeeper. Now, Get French Football News exclusively report that Kylian Mbappe is the leading contender to become France’s national team skipper.
In his farewell message to the French national team on Instagram, Varane stated that this was time for the new generation to take over. His retirement leaves a gap to be filled in the right-sided centre-back role with Les Bleus. Thankfully, Deschamps does not lack contenders to partner Dayot Upamecano (24), arguably the best starting defender for France in Qatar. Let’s take a look at them.
In this regard, Ibrahima Konaté (23) looks to be one step ahead of the competition. The Liverpool centre-back is a close friend of the Bayern defender, with whom he formed a solid partnership at RB Leipzig. Konaté also impressed at the World Cup and became a fan-favourite with his aerial presence and his flawless positioning as well as his reading of the game. He was comfortably France’s best player during Les Bleus’ dead rubber loss against Tunisia in the group stage and he put in an immense shift as a left-sided centre-back against Morocco in the semi-finals as well as an impressive cameo in the final. It was him that put Randal Kolo Muani (24) through on goal in the dying minutes of extra time, before being denied by Emiliano Martinez. Liverpool’s #5 is currently injured with a hamstring strain and is set to miss up to three weeks of competition. Will he find the time to be match-ready for France’s upcoming Euro 2024 qualifying group-stage games? Les Bleus host the Netherlands on March 24th and will travel to Ireland three days later.
Despite remarkable performances with Premier League leaders Arsenal, centre-back William Saliba (21) only played 27 minutes in the World Cup. He came on as a substitute for Varane against Tunisia. Monaco centre-back Axel Disasi (24) is also available, although Deschamps used him as a backup for right-back Jules Koundé (24) in Qatar following Benjamin Pavard’s (26) erratic outing against Australia. Wesley Fofana (23) should not be overlooked but the defender Chelsea paid €80m for is currently on the sidelines following a knee injury, and Deschamps has never called him up for international duty.
Among the talented French right-sided centre-backs that never had the chance to don the legendary blue jersey, Deschamps has plenty of choices too. There is Nice’s stalwart Jean-Clair Todibo (23), AC Milan’s Pierre Kalulu (22) and RB Leipzig’s Mohamed Simakan (22). Varane can retire knowing there are plenty of defenders ready to pick up the baton and, hopefully, follow in his footsteps.
GFFN | Bastien Cheval