The duo were instrumental in helping Les Bleus go all the way in Russia and the Real Madrid defender has heaped praise on the PSG superstar, who netted four goals in the finals and also managed to win the Best Young Player award.
“I have known some aliens. I think this is the first time I have met a young alien,” Varane joked in an interview with L’Equipe, stating that the 19-year-old’s ability is out of this world.
“Normally I meet extraterrestrials when they are 25, 30-years old. At the World Cup, I met one under the age of 20.
“With him, everything goes faster. When I talk tactically with him before the matches, I do not have time to finish my sentences before he has already understood and assimilated what I’m saying.”
In a World Cup that ended up being the third-most prolific of all time, high-class defending was at a premium. But there were a few exponents of football’s less loved art who stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Diego Godin was a prime example, as the centre-back who seems like a throwback to a bygone era, showed yet again why he’s considered one of the best defenders in the world.
The Uruguay man duly tops our World Cup centre-back rankings – here’s the full top five.
1. Diego Godin, Uruguay
Uruguay are blessed with attacking stars like Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, but no player personifies the team more than Diego Godin. The Atletico Madrid man gives no quarter and fights until his dying breath, much like his team.
Every bit the classic warrior-defender, the 32-year-old was at his best in the World Cup as he anchored a miserly defence that conceded just three times en-route to the quarter-finals, dominating in the air and serving as a roaring, inspirational leader.
2. Harry Maguire, England
Everyone knew a player named Harry would star for England at the World Cup. Nobody thought it would be Maguire, not Kane. As he has been at every stage of his rise to stardom, Maguire was a revelation this summer.
The Leicester City defender was a towering presence in the air in both his box and the opposition’s, and always looked unruffled on the ball. It was his goal that put England in the driver’s seat in the quarter-final.
3. Raphael Varane, France
Raphael Varane has long been marked out as one of the best young defenders in the world, but he’s had a shaky couple of years for Real Madrid. However, this summer, Varane took the next step on the journey to realising his potential.
The 25-year-old looked like he was relishing his role as the senior man in the heart of France’s defence, leading that rearguard to a World Cup title – and for good measure, he added a crucial knockout stage goal as well.
4. Jose Gimenez, Uruguay
The other half of Uruguay’s indefatigable central defensive partnership, Jose Gimenez was about as much of a warrior as Godin, with the duo close to unbeatable.
It’s remarkable that at 23-years old, Gimenez has carved out a reputation for himself as just as hard-nosed and reliable defender as senior colleague Godin – a reputation that grew even more at this World Cup.
5. Domagoj Vida, Croatia
Barring a controversy over a couple of politically charged videos, Domagoj Vida was the Croatian centre-back who made the least headlines. While Dejan Lovren was wondering why he’s not regarded as one of the world’s best defenders, Vida was the one putting in outstanding performances at the heart of his team’s defence.
And he was a dangerous presence in attack, as well, scoring a vital goal in Croatia’s quarter-final win over Russia and bagging an assist in the final, setting up Ivan Perisic’s first-half equaliser. The Besiktas man, who has been linked with Liverpool, was everywhere.
As soon as France lifted the World Cup to the sky, silly season went into overdrive.
Some of the brightest sparks in Russia have been linked to big moves and in a series of daily features, we reflect on their time at the tournament – and which teams should be poking around for their services.
WORLD CUP OVERVIEW
We’re hardly likely to forget one of the biggest thrashings dished out at this summer’s World Cup, as Croatia tortured international juggernauts Argentina 3-0.
Ante Rebic’s thunderous volley is the standout moment from that game, but he almost didn’t make the tournament. He wasn’t a favourite of previous coach Ante Cacic, but all that changed when former Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic came in and breathed life into a stuttering qualifying campaign last October.
Rebic was brought in from the cold and he was one of the players to catch fire during the tournament – pretty impressive considering the illustrious team-mates he has around him.
His seemingly ceaseless appetite for work and excellent engine were traits that proved pivotal to Croatia motoring into a first-ever World Cup final.
RATINGS FROM THE ARCHIVE
Croatia 2 Nigeria 0
7 – Worked hard and fashioned goalscoring opportunities for himself but failed to hit the target. Completed two dribbles though somehow managed to avoid getting booked despite committing five fouls.
Croatia 3 Argentina 0
8 – Very fortunate to escape horror first-half challenge on Eduardo Salvio but then popped up with superb winner following horrendous Willy Caballero mistake.
Croatia 2 Iceland 1
N/A – Did not play
Round of 16
Croatia 1 Denmark 1 (Croatia win 3-2 on penalties)
6 – Industrious as ever on that right flank and played a part in the equaliser. Always a willing runner and did well to win the penalty deep into extra-time.
Croatia 2 Russia 2 (Croatia win 4-3 on penalties)
6 – Didn’t quite scale the same heights of previous games in the tournament. His impact here was more as a willing, tireless runner than to produce anything spectacular.
Croatia 2 England 1
5 – Fired in several wild shots and could do nothing with the rebound when Perisic’s second-half shot hit the woodwork.
France 4 Croatia 2
5 – Has been a constant threat this month and jointly led Croatia in dribbles (2), but lacked the incision he has brought to this side.
WORLD CUP STATS
Rebic’s World Cup form mirrors that of his 2017/18 club season with Frankfurt, where he was a vital part of the Eagles’ flight to eighth place, their best finish in five seasons.
They will be playing Europa League football next season for the first time in five years and Rebic is a huge reason for that, scoring a brace as Frankfurt memorably beat Bayern Munich 3-1 to claim a fifth DFB Pokal title.
His 1.5 dribbles per game last term led Frankfurt and was 16th overall in the Bundesliga, which in turn led to him being fouled on average 1.4 times per game. He bagged six league goals, third only behind forwards Sebastien Haller and Luka Jovic, while he was also one of the hardest working, making 1.5 tackles per game.
He’s a menace – As evidenced in Russia, Rebic is a pest with a penchant for scoring. He is tireless, tenacious and will be a nuisance in both attack and defence. He committed more fouls (21) than any other player so he’s probably going to see yellow often, but he doesn’t know when to quit.
That can also be a virtue on the other side of the ball, with Rebic leading Croatia at the World Cup in dribbles (3.2 per game) while only Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic were fouled more times (1.8 per game), so full-backs won’t be getting any respite. Neither, perhaps, will goalkeepers as his 2.5 shots per game was second most.
Passing – Rebic has a lot of plus points for prospective teams eying him up, but they will not be signing him for his passing range and vision. His pass success rate at the World Cup with Croatia was a woeful 59.8 per cent, and that was not an anomaly.
His figure of 56.9 per cent from the Bundesliga last season was even worse. Luckily, with his ability as a counter-attacking, ball-winning winger, he was able to leave the job of keeping and utilising possession to the likes of Perisic and Luka Modric.
Frankfurt are said to value the winger at around £44 million, but after helping the Vatreni (the Blazers) reach the final, that figure could easily rise.
Manchester United are certainly keen to try some Croats on for size with a double swoop for both Rebic and Ivan Perisic for a combined £92m in the offing. If United are prized out of a move for the Inter Milan wideman, Rebic could be a more viable option.
And Red Devils coach Jose Mourinho will definitely value his pace on the counter and industry.
After a 2017 summer of relative inactivity, Tottenham can’t afford to fall behind in 2018. Mauricio Pochettino’s speedy attack is orchestrated by Christian Eriksen and spearheaded by Harry Kane. And Rebic’s boundless energy and incisive running could help create chaos.
Napoli ultimately fell short of wrestling the Serie A crown from undisputed kings Juventus last season, but came mighty close. Carlo Ancelotti has replaced Maurizio Sarri and with Dries Mertens possibly off, the relentless Rebic would be a welcome addition to a bustling array of fast forwards that includes Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon.
If the Nerazzurri struggle to keep hold of Perisic, then they would do well to keep it Croatian when looking for a replacement. Perisic has been a tireless up-and-down winger during his time at the San Siro and they would get a like-for-like player in Rebic.