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Defenders on top: who is the better buy, Raphael Varane or Ben White?

With Arsenal and Manchester United’s new summer signings all but done, we take a look at how the defensive duo compare.

Three things are guaranteed in life - death, taxes and bickering between Manchester United and Arsenal fans.

Arsene Wenger vs Sir Alex Ferguson, Martin Keown vs Ruud van Nistelrooy and, of course, Robin van Persie's awkward guard of honour - the two clubs simply cannot stand one another.

So, when both clubs bring in new centre-backs in the same transfer window, it's inevitable that arguments break out over which club has done the better deal.

So in the spirit of fairness, Planet Sport steps in to adjudicate ahead of the duo's respective moves to Old Trafford and the Emirates.

Value for money

Ben White - 6

In today's market, acquiring a young, English centre-back is never going to be cheap.

With the Premier League insisting each club must have eight homegrown players in their 25-man squad, it's no surprise that English players demand a larger fee.

Therefore, although Arsenal's £50million bid looks hefty at first sight, Ben White's homegrown status needs to be taken into account.

But while Arsenal's bid is par for the course in today's market, it certainly can't be considered a bargain.

Raphael Varane - 8

To secure a player of Varane's calibre for around £40million is a superb deal for United, and definitely better value than many of their previous purchases.

At 28, Varane is hitting his prime as a centre-back, and is likely to contribute to United for the next three years at least.

However, while Varane's fee may have fans rubbing their eyes, his wages are reportedly a hefty £300,000-plus a week. Talent and experience still comes at a price.

Defending and discipline

Ben White - 6

Ben White, Premier League, Brighton

Since his return to Brighton, Ben White has stood out as one of the most promising young centre-backs in the country, and was rewarded for his form by a call-up to the England set-up.

During last season, White boasted a 60% tackle success rate (49/82) - a fairly impressive tally for a centre-back in his first season of Premier League soccer.

While White's tackling is adequate for the Premier League, where he shines is in his ability to read the game. He managed 62 interceptions last season, almost double Varane's 36.

Furthermore, White made no errors leading to goals.

However, one negative to White's defensive play is his discipline. White committed 30 fouls last season, resulting in five yellow cards and one red.

Raphael Varane - 8

As one of the world's highest rated centre-backs, it's not surprising to see Varane shines under the statistical microscope.

The Frenchman's tackle success rate stands at 71% (22/31), so while he may make less tackles than White, he is more likely to come away with the ball.
As for discipline, Varane enjoyed an almost perfect record in 2020/21, making just 16 fouls and receiving only two yellow cards.

If he can translate those stats into the Premier League, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have just found the perfect partner for Harry Maguire.


Ben White - 7

As the game evolves, a centre-back willing to use his feet and pick a pass is becoming increasingly important.

Luckily for both sets of fans, Varane and White are comfortable and composed on the ball - although both may initially be weighed down by expectation following their moves.

In 2021/22, White boasted 83% passing accuracy (1477/1771) and showed his passing range, completing 84 long-range passes.

The Englishman didn't manage any assists, but did create one big chance according to his Premier League profile.

With Mikel Arteta wanting to replicate the fast-paced, possession-based style on display during his days as Manchester City assistant manager, White may just be the perfect choice to slot into his defensive trio.

Raphael Varane - 7

Raphael Varane, Real Madrid
Similarly, Varane very much personifies a modern centre-back, and while he thrives physically, he also has superb technical ability when in possession.

Varane tops White's passing accuracy, achieving 90% (1590/1774) with Real Madrid in La Liga last season.

While Varane may face more pressure on the ball at Manchester United, he also achieved a 90% passing accuracy in Real's 2020/21 Champions League campaign, showcasing his ability on Europe's biggest stage.


Ben White - 3

Sorry Arsenal fans, but this one is the difference between night and day.

With just a Championship title under his belt, White's experience is nothing compared to Varane's.

One positive in the Englishman's favour is his Premier League experience. Despite 2020/21 being his first full season in the top flight, White caught the eye, with Gareth Southgate just one of those who saw the potential in the 23-year-old.

Raphael Varane - 8

Raphael Varane, World Cup, 2018

Growing up in the English game clearly gives White an advantage over Varane.

However, when it comes to high-pressure matches and cup finals, there's no competition.

With a World Cup, four Champions Leagues and three league titles to his name, Varane has done it all at the top level.

After arriving at Real Madrid in 2011, Varane quickly cemented his place in the side and has since been an integral part of their continued success.

Varane is one of the most decorated defenders out there for both club and country, and will bring invaluable experience and a winning mentality to the Old Trafford dressing room.

The only thing preventing him from receiving a 10 is his lack of Premier League experience.

In years gone by, we've seen many big-money signings arrive in the Premier League and wilt when exposed to the pressure and pace. Does Varane have what it takes?

Aerial threat

Ben White - 5

Standing at 6ft, White has been able to hold his own in aerial threats for Brighton, but it's certainly not one of the centre-back's most impressive traits.

Defensively, White rolls the dice in aerial duels, winning 50% of his challenges last season (49/99), while adding a further 23 unchallenged headed clearances.

In terms of set-piece threat, White is yet to open his account for Brighton, and only managed one goal during his time at Leeds.

Raphael Varane - 7

When compared to White, Varane is superior in the air, winning 75% of his aerial duels last season for Madrid (73/97).

The Frenchman also netted two goals for Los Blancos last season, and with the likes of Maguire, Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba also in a United shirt next season, Solskjaer's side could prove lethal from dead-ball situations.


Ben White - 8

Ben White, Brighton, Premier League

This is where White comes into his own. The 23-year-old defender is still extremely young for a defender, and while that comes with a lack of experience, it also allows fans to speculate wildly when it comes to his potential.

Able to slot in at centre-back, right-back or even as a defensive midfielder, White has shown that he is hugely adaptable and versatile, with masses of room for improvement.

A £50million transfer is a considerable investment for the north London side, but takes into account not how good he is now but how good he could go on to become.

Raphael Varane - 5

This may seem harsh on Varane, who himself is only 28, but the truth is that United fans already know what they're getting. And frankly we don't think they'll be too bothered if he doesn't improve at all.

The only fear is that having achieved so much already, Varane may lack the fire in his belly to drive United on to silverware.


Raphael Varane - 43

Ben White - 35

Sorry Arsenal fans, but it's United's signing who comes out on top this time.

Varane has clearly been bought to help United close the gap on their cross-city rivals. His experience, talent and physical ability would all point to him being a success in the Premier League. However, it will be on silverware he is ultimately judged.

As for Arsenal, they may have to wait longer to see a return on their investment. But while White loses out when it comes to head to head comparisons now, only when his time at the Emirates is up will we truly know who got more bang for their buck. 

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