In the summer of 2005, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez went out of his way and signed a young 19-year-old defender from Andalucian side Sevilla. Sergio Ramos was a promising star who had made his name with Sevilla B – Sevilla’s second string side – and the club’s first team during the 2004/05 campaign.

It was a bold move on the part of the construction mogul, who was known to have a penchant towards bringing in well-established stars of the game that could replicate their earlier success at the White Castle. Fast forward seven years and the transaction has proved to be one of the best pieces of business Perez has ever done.

Ramos inherited Fernando Hierro’s famous number 4 shirt and the decorated defender has all the attributes the former Real Madrid captain possessed: Good leadership qualities, an eye for goal, and on the downside, a growing suspension record.

The Spain international is now one of the most highly-rated players Real Madrid have, and as acting vice-captain, he is amongst the team’s veterans. Despite being only 27, he might have just passed on the torch already to young Raphael Varane, who at 19, is being showered with praise for his recent displays, even more than his partner in defence was in his tender years.

An early season injury to defender Pepe saw Varane command a starting place next to Ramos in the heart of defence. It was a bold move by Jose Mourinho, given Varane’s age and the presence of a more experienced defender such as Raul Albiol to fill in the gap left by the Portuguese stopper – but it was one that worked wonders for Real Madrid manager. By the end of the previous season, Varane managed nine league appearances. This term, he has eleven, and he is very likely to increase his current tally as the current campaign draws to a close.

Varane became unlikely to lose his starting berth when he put the shackles on Lionel Messi as the two Spanish giants collided in the semi-final of the Copa del Rey. The promising Frenchman was able to stop the world’s best player during both legs of the cup tie. Even more unexpectedly, he managed to score on both occasions; Mourinho knew then that his young protege was an invaluable asset.

His good form continued against Manchester United in the Round of 16 of the Champions League, as the former Lens youngster fended off Robin van Persie’s threat, making it impossible for the prolific Dutchman to score. And in the first leg of Real Madrid’s quarter-final clash, his victims were Galatasaray pair Burak Yilmaz and Didier Drogba. “I cannot believe this boy is only 19-years old. He’s one of the best defenders I have ever faced”, declared a shaken Drogba in the aftermath of Real Madrid’s 3-0 win over the Turkish league leaders in Spain.

Even Pepe – once the defensive destroyer in the heart of Los Blancos’ defence – seems to be resigned to losing his place to Varane. Having started the league game against Real Zaragoza, the former FC Porto man was sceptical about his chances of making the team-sheet for the clash against Galatasaray. “I won’t be surprised if I don’t play but I’m here to help the team and the coach decides the best”, he said.

Varane’s success with the Spanish champions was always likely to be translated onto the international scene. He played the full ninety minutes for France against Georgia and Spain and never once looked like a novice of the game. Fellow defender Philippe Mexes – who was once touted as the next defensive gem of France – showered his partner with praise. “He is the best defender in the country”, commented the AC Milan stopper.

Whatever the identity of Real Madrid’s coach for the next season, the man in charge will have selection problems to face ahead of 2013/14. Diego Lopez has been magnificent between the posts for Real Madrid and it will not be straightforward for Iker Casillas to claim his berth back; the identity of the team’s first-choice keeper will be up for debate. Another dilemma will be in defence: Should Sergio Ramos switch to right-back in order to accommodate Pepe in the centre of defence next to Varane? Alvaro Arbeloa, as assuring as he is on either flank, could very well be sacrificed in favour of a younger, more attacking minded right-back. Daniel Carvajal – who was sold to Bayer Leverkusen last summer – has made his name with the German side, and Real Madrid made sure to insert one of their famous buy-back clauses in the sale. His possible return could lead to some shuffling at the back.

Varane’s role however is not in doubt and the defensive talent looks set to become a pillar for the side for the rest of the current term and years to come. The biggest fear remains if this talented young Frenchman peaks too early, as was the case with the likes of Brazilian superstar Ronaldo and Michael Owen. If not, then he looks set to become France’s newest Laurent Blanc and Real Madrid’s next Fernando Hierro. Europe’s forwards better beware.

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