A seasoned UEFA Champions League campaigner at 22, Real Madrid’s French international centre-back Raphaël Varane tells UEFA.com about playing under boyhood hero Zinédine Zidane and how he went from back-yard football to the greatest competition in the world.
UEFA.com: What influence has Zinédine Zidane had on the team so far?
Raphaël Varane: He is a coach who loves the game and likes attacking football – he likes movement [in the game], moving the ball around quickly. In training he has added a physical aspect to enable us to play higher up the pitch, which is what he is looking for in our game.
He loves to talk and to show video clips in order to improve small details. It’s true that he is really close to the squad and of course the fact he was a player and is a young coach creates a special understanding between him and the players.
He became an icon at the 1998 World Cup, for everyone and for all time. He had a great impact on French football. As a little boy I watched him and he has a real aura worldwide, but especially in France.
UEFA.com: How did you start out in football?
Varane: I started to play with my brother in our back yard – my father was sort of our coach and he tried to calm us down and help us, because we could have played for hours without stopping and it could always end in tears. Then I began to play at a local club from the age of seven and later I followed the classic route through the academy at Lens.
At first I played for fun, but little by little I realised I could have a career and I discovered it could be the best job in the world. I am very happy to have had such an opportunity. It didn’t happen overnight – it went step by step with a lot of hard work and years of effort and practice.
UEFA.com: You moved from Lens to Real Madrid when you were still a teenager; how has your game developed since?
Varane: I have been educated in every respect – as a footballer and as a man – since I came here. Where I have improved most is in the [physical] challenge of one-on-one situations, but I hope to keep on getting better in order to achieve the best of my abilities.
UEFA.com: At 22, you are playing in your fifth successive UEFA Champions League season; how much do you enjoy Champions League nights?
Varane: I have quite a bit of experience in this competition at such a young age. I have played one final already and I get the chance to play big Champions League games every year. It’s a new challenge each season and I have the same enthusiasm and motivation – always hoping that I will end up lifting the trophy.
It’s a huge competition, the best club competition around, and the standard is always very high. There are always great games to watch and spectacular goals – it’s the highest level of football in the world. It is also fiercely contested, so it’s a massive thing to be able to take part.
Varane pressures Roma’s Stephan El Shaarawy in the 2-0 first-leg win