Why Manchester United and Real Madrid are chasing hard for Raphael Varane
Less than ten months ago Raphael Varane was a relative unknown, just one of several, talented French youngsters looking forward to the new season in the hope of making his reserve-team debut.
Fast-forward to this summer and the Lens defender has not only made his first team debut, he's become the bedrock of his team's defence, won a senior call-up to his national team and been courted by Zinedine Zidane and Sir Alex Ferguson. All achieved having barely just turned 18 years of age.
Varane is now regarded as not only the best of an outstanding 1993 French age-group, but among the most talented players to emerge in his country in recent years.
Last week, Zinedine Zidane made contact and invited him to Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu. In Madrid, Zizou acted as Varane's tour guide and introduced him not only to coach Jose Mourinho, but also president Florentino Perez, who instantly gave him a warm embrace and treated the teen with the respect of star name.
This all came within hours of Manchester United, concerned by Real's sudden push, upping their original end-of-season bid of €3.5 million to €10.5 million.
Those close to United manager Ferguson say what's attractive about Varane is his maturity and the strong family unit he comes from.
But it's also that level-headedness that could leave United frustrated in their pursuit.
Varane admits: "Yes it can be tempting to leave, but for me it is not a goal. Leaving at 18 years of age is not part of my career. To leave just as I'm starting doesn't seem to be the right time.
"If I leave, it will be in order to play. To leave and not to play ... it would be useless.
"Yes there are many examples of players who may have gone too soon."
Zidane was in Varane's ear last week, assuring him he would be part of Mourinho's first team. But despite the press speculation, the teen is unlikely to be rushed into any decision. Indeed, when United's original offer was confirmed, Varane made it clear his priority was his exams and not Old Trafford.
"I try to keep a balance with my football and my family and the relationship I have with my friends and my teammates," he says
"I will not change, I will remain the same: just as I am now, I'm going to keep my feet on the ground, and I'll give myself fully to this sport."
Varane knows his sudden fame makes him an instant role-model for French children - and rather than shrug off the responsibility, he embraces it.
"It's true that I like talking with younger children," Varane says.
"I do think I can be an example through my progress in football. I've never been a leader. Two years ago, when I was 15 and a junior, I was not in the France squad, but I continued to work anyway.
"Today, even with everything that has happened, it is still the case!"
With Lens suffering relegation, sources close to Varane say he is leaning towards leaving, despite public claims that he wants to just play regularly to continue his development. A trump card for United in their battle for the 18 year-old could be his senior teammate Franck Queudrue, who has taken Varane under his wing.
Queudrue, the former Fulham and Birmingham City defender, was a big influence on Varane's smooth introduction to Ligue Une action last season and is sure to have talked up the prospect of moving to England with his young teammate.
"Franck has helped me a lot because of his experience and enthusiasm. He is always there for me," smiles Varane. " He has also taught me to manage my efforts during the game. He guides me a lot.
"It's been very interesting to have someone of his experience to lean on."
It's understood Varane's versatility is something that has impressed Ferguson. While primarily a centre-half, Varane's ability on the ball has many involved with the national coaching setup seeing him as a midfielder long-term.
It's that sort of adaptability which is attractive to Real and United.
Francophile Ferguson will be counting on Queudrue's influence to convince Varane that England will serve him better than Spain when he finally decides it is time to move on from Lens.