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Raphael Varane has made France Football’s 30 man longlist for the Ballon d’Or.

This will have largely gone unnoticed, much like the excellent displays Varane has put in for club and country over the last 18 months. No one really pays attention to centre-backs when it comes to award consideration, but they should pay attention to Varane.

“In this best team in the world, there must be the best player in the world, right?” asked Antoine Griezmann, before adding; “there are votes, opinions, different judgements. But I think that a Frenchman must win the Ballon d’Or this year.”

Sometimes it can be difficult to judge exactly what makes a player worthy to win the Ballon d’Or. Luckily for us, France Football have released the three criteria that they use to calculate who should win the award. Using these, we will outline why Raphael Varane shouldn’t be dismissed as a genuine contender for the 2018 Ballon d’Or.

1. Individual and collective performances during the year

Raphael Varane is a phenomenal defender, but more than that he has a phenomenal season 2017/18. The Frenchman was instrumental in Real Madrid’s third successive Champions League victory, playing 938 minutes across 11 games during the season. He failed to appear just twice, in the group stages, and played every single second in the knockout rounds.

Varane’s performance in the final, as he and Sergio Ramos shackled that explosive Liverpool attack, was particularly impressive and set the stage for Gareth Bale’s second half heroics. Typically this went unnoticed, but respect should be given.

Varane then built on that by playing incredibly at the heart of the France defence as Les Bleus powered their way to an incredible win at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Didier Deschamps’ side was built on their defence, and that defence relied enormously on Varane’s partnership with Samuel Umtiti. The pair radiated confidence and their ability to stifle the powerhouse Belgian attack was incredible.

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Moreover it was Varane’s great goal, a soaring guided header after a brilliant lateral run, that broke open the quarter-final against Uruguay. Beating Uruguay, a side that refused to open up and enable the France counter-attack, was always going to require something special and Varane delivered it. His part in France’s triumph was enormous and he was the only player to win the two “biggest” trophies in 2018.

2. Player class

There’s no defender quite like Raphael Varane, not really. The closest is if you go back and look at Rio Ferdinand in his prime. In present day? No chance. See, here’s the thing; Raphael Varane is a big dude. He stands 1.91 metres tall (that’s 6’3 if you’re wondering) and has broad shoulders. He’s powerful and very dominant in the air. Yet Raphael Varane is fast. Like, seriously fast.

Varane has a sprinting speed that allows him to keep up with and close down pretty much any attacker in the world. It’s rare you see him done for pace. And whilst players with those physical gifts are usually the kind of dominant mavericks that Varane’s two defensive partners Samuel Umtiti and Sergio Ramos are, the expressive and aggressive defender; Varane is much more serene.

If you look at Varane’s performances from last year’s league and Champions League, he has put up more clearances and blocks than any other centre-back from the Champions League’s “big four” (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Atlético Madrid) clubs.

Yet Varane plays the game as a covering defender. You’ll nearly always see him hanging back, letting his partner push up to press, knowing that he has the closing speed to head any danger off at the pass. He’s one of the top five centre-backs in the world but plays with a style and consistency unlike any of the others (Diego Godín, the only one more consistent, has a decidedly more orthodox skill-set).

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3. Player’s career

Raphael Varane is 25 years old.

Raphael Varane has won almost every major trophy available to him as a footballer. Most of them more than once.

Both of these statements are ridiculous and true. Varane has had a phenomenal start to his footballing career, aided by joining Real Madrid at 18 years of age. The Frenchman was one of a handful of teenagers that José Mourinho has ever completely trusted which should tell you everything about how solid he has always been.

The only trophy left off of Varane’s list is the European Championships, and he’ll have a chance to pick that up in 2020. In fact given his age he’s almost certainly going to have at least two more shots, conceivably three if he plays on ’til he’s 35, at winning the Euros.

Other than that? Varane is all-conquering. Defenders don’t usually win the Ballon d’Or, but the only players who had amassed such a complete trophy haul by 25 years of age in the modern era were Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets. And considering they were playing together and also with Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Leo Messi, they had an easier job than Varane; moreover they never did what Varane managed to do and win the Champions League and World Cup in the same year.

Sergio Ramos has, like Varane, been a colossal presence for Real Madrid in their four recent Champions League wins; so why did he miss out? Well in 2014, despite becoming the first player to score in and win the Champions League (or equivalent) semi-finals and final as well as Club World Cup semi-finals and final, he had a shockingly bad World Cup. And whatever you think of the World Cup, it’s weighted heavily.

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World Cup underperformance is the same reason that Diego Godín, who incredibly won La Liga in 2014 and came within 60 seconds of winning the Champions League as well (only to be undone by Ramos, of all people) failed to challenge for the big award in 2014.

Meanwhile, Fabio Cannavaro showed that a towering World Cup performance can make up for all manner of club woe (his Juventus were taken to the sword by Cesc Fabregas and Arsenal in the Champions League) when he won the 2006 Ballon d’Or.

Raphael Varane has combined both Godín’s 2014 and Cannavaro’s 2006 into one miraculous season. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. And maybe now it’s time for a centre-back to take home France Football’s top award again.

The post Raphael Varane: the most overlooked Ballon d’Or contender around right now appeared first on Squawka News.

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