Manchester United prepare for their final two preseason friendlies this weekend, one against RC Lens at Old Trafford on Saturday and one against Athletic Bilbao in Dublin, Ireland on Sunday.
The Saturday match is special for one United player in particular. Raphael Varane, the serial winner with France and Real Madrid, got his start at RC Lens as a child in their youth setup, spending nearly a decade with the club before getting his big move to Spain in 2011.
“He is the most consistent player since the start of the season,” RC Lens Academy Director Eric Assadourian said of Varane back in 2010, then on the cusp of breaking into the first team. “He really repeats top level performances. We consider him to be a truly top-notch player and the club are counting on him for the future.”
Assadourian was Varane’s youth coach over a decade ago, and early on called him a player “comfortable on both a tactical and technical level.” His rise was well documented in France, emerging in a very talented generation of players who would go on to win top prizes for both club and country.
Varane was called up to the first team early in the 2010/11 campaign and quickly became a key contributor in defense. He appeared 23 times in Ligue 1 and scored two goals. It was a season that ended in relegation for Lens, but for Varane it was the start of a special career. He had quickly broken through and stood out in the side, even wearing the captains armband toward the end of the season, and by summertime many of the top clubs in Europe were vying for his services.
“For me it’s very special. I have a lot of memories as a kid when I was in Lens,” Varane said in an interview with MUTV ahead of the reunion with his boyhood club.
“They have a very attacking game, very offensive. They have a high press up the pitch, very intense, they run a lot. They create a lot of chances, so it will be very attractive to face them.”
The match will be the first and final friendly at Old Trafford ahead of the new season, and it is expected that Rasmus Hojlund will finally be unveiled in front of the home crowd as well, just as Varane was two years ago. It will be the first taste of action in front of the fans in the new football calendar, and hopefully it’s both a productive and entertaining run out before the Premier League season kicks off against Wolverhampton Wanderers eight days later.
“We want to be as strong as last season at home, so it’s good for us to start playing in Old Trafford,” Varane said of playing at home. “Even if it’s a friendly game I am sure the atmosphere will be good and create a good energy around the team.”
United of course only lost once at home last season, falling 2-1 on opening day against Brighton & Hove Albion before going on a 17-match unbeaten home run in the league. They also drew a favorable cup draw in each competition, winning four FA Cup, four League Cup, and four UEFA Europa League fixtures at Old Trafford with only a loss to Real Sociedad as a blemish in that competition.
The home support has been important for United under Erik ten Hag thus far, and particularly important for a defensive unit that was leaking goals in 2021/22. For Varane and the rest of the defense it will be a new challenge working with goalkeeper Andre Onana
“We work on the details. Tactically we want to be ready. We want to work as a team, a squad, and we have to be more consistent this season. We have to repeat good performances every three days, so it’s a lot of details we’re working on.
“Hopefully we can do better this season, and we want to improve all the time. It’s always a challenge for us to be better.”