By Dan Coombs
When Manchester United splashed out £34 million to sign Raphael Varane in 2021, the club’s plan was not to spend £46 million on another centre-back just 12 months later.
This is exactly what United have just done, paying big for Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez.
After a defensive nightmare last season which saw United concede 58 goals in 38 Premier League games, something had to be done, and new manager Erik ten Hag now has a centre-back he knows he can trust – signing Martinez for the second time in three years.
Raphael Varane has not been terrible – he just hasn’t been part of the solution. Yet.
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The big issue for Raphael Varane has been fitness. Even this pre-season has highlighted a lack of reliability since he joined United. He started and played 45 minutes against Liverpool – and then missed the game against Melbourne Victory due to a minor knock.
Varane only started 20 of 37 Premier League games he was eligible for last season. He picked up two injuries on international duty with France, which cost him time.
The Frenchman showed flashes of quality in his first season at United. His debut against Wolves was excellent, and a standout display away at Tottenham also stood out. But with centre-back partner Harry Maguire struggling, the pair failed to establish a productive connection.
Once Lisandro Martinez beds in, Varane, Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly all could be battling it out to partner him.
The good news is, there will be plenty of games to go around. United have 16 Premier League games before the World Cup, plus six Europa League games, and two League Cup games. That’s 24 matches between August and November.
What we have seen from Varane at Manchester United so far, is that he is not a player United can rely on to be available to play two matches a week, every week, for three months.
Throw in an international break and a World Cup, and it’s no wonder Erik ten Hag has made a decision United need an extra centre-back.
Varane and Martinez could form a very strong defensive partnership, and could be United’s first choice – if the Frenchman can stay fit.
The chances are, that Varane will continue to be plagued by fitness hiccups, and Maguire and Lindelof will get their chances. Even Bailly if he stays.
Varane is top class, but when it comes to reliability, he has a lot to prove, and Lisandro Martinez gives United extra security in a key position.
By Dan Coombs