Raphael Varane has no regrets about joining Manchester United, despite a difficult first season at Old Trafford being compounded by former club Real Madrid winning the Champions League.
There was a sense of optimism around the Red Devils last summer when the France international followed Jadon Sancho in joining a club that had just finished as Premier League and Europa League runners-up.
Varane enjoyed an unforgettable welcome at a packed Old Trafford before a convincing victory against rivals Leeds and the return of former Real team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo added expectation.
But things soon went awry for United. Poor results led to the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and interim replacement Ralf Rangnick only managed to lead the side to sixth, while injuries restricted the defender to just 20 league starts.
“It was not the best season, the best results,” Varane told the PA news agency.
“Obviously I wanted to play a little bit more but that’s part of football and we’re looking forward for the next season.
“I think the confidence was something important and we lost the confidence when we lost some games.
“I think a lot of things we could do better and obviously we want to improve for the next season. I think we need consistency and we need to build this confidence.”
Last season was a far cry from the successes enjoyed by Varane at Real Madrid, who won the LaLiga and Champions League titles as the World Cup winner turned out for toiling United.
Asked if his former team’s success made him think he made the wrong decision moving, the four-time European champion replied: “Absolutely not.
“I think in football you have to challenge yourself and you have to try to improve and I wanted to live another experience after 10 years in the same place – so, no.
“I think the Premier League is absolutely fantastic and Manchester United are a great club, so there was no doubt about my decision.”
Varane’s emotions seem to contrast with frustrated Ronaldo, who is already believed to be looking to end his second spell at Old Trafford.
The 37-year-old missed the pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia due to a family issue and it remains to be seen when he will link up with United.
“Of course we want to improve,” Varane said. “Cristiano is a great competitor, he’s a legend. Obviously it’s very good to play with him and he always helps the team.
“He’s a great player and we all want the best players in the team. We will try to improve next season.”
Ronaldo scored 24 goals in all competitions in his first campaign back at United and was crowned Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year, but it was not enough to bring cup success or Champions League qualification.
Some have suggested the veteran’s style meant he was a hindrance rather than a help but Varane dismissed such talk.
“We appreciate him as a player and as a person,” he said. “I think this debate was outside of the dressing room. We know his quality.
“And we know he’s very famous, so we know a lot of people will speak about the performance of the team and his performance.”
Playing for United brings additional scrutiny and pressure, which captain Harry Maguire knows all about.
Erik ten Hag confirmed Maguire would retain the armband this season and the defender was booed by fans in Melbourne at the start of Tuesday’s friendly against Crystal Palace.
“I think he’s a very important player for us,” Varane said. “He’s the captain and he has a lot of great qualities. Obviously we support him and he’s part of the team and very important for us.”
Varane and Maguire were the first-choice centre-back pairing when fit last season but that dynamic could change when Lisandro Martinez arrives from Ajax.
“I think the competition is very good for the team,” Varane said. “We’ll all be better with this competition. It’s good for the team, so every great club is like this. So this is normal.
“I think we have to be ready for this pressure. If everyone wants to fight for the team, that’s great news.”
It is a fresh chapter for all connected to United as new manager Ten Hag looks to improve the fortunes of the 20-time league champions.
“A new season, a new start,” said Varane ahead of Saturday’s friendly against Aston Villa in Perth. “We’re looking forward…new manager and new ideas, new style, so everything is different.
“I think we have a great potential in this team. I think we’re already improving and we can do better. And we’ll keep pushing to fight for the title.
“We are working a lot. (Ten Hag) is very positive, he wants this energy and to press high up the pitch…to keep pushing and be proactive for 90 minutes, so we know exactly what we have to do and we need to work hard.
“We try to play with the defence and we try to defend very high on the pitch, so with more space on our back.
“I think it’s a football that is maybe more offensive. But this football we really enjoy, so that’s a good start.”