Ed Woodward has one last chance to make good on his Raphael Varane promise at Manchester United

Man United have five centre-backs but none are world-class and recent history suggests the Premier League title winners need an elite centre half.

One of the advantages of signing a target early in a major tournament summer is it avoids haggling should their resale value soar.

Raphael Varane was colossal in Munich in midweek. Manchester United 's £50million offer was endemic of Glazernomics but Real Madrid's £80m valuation is exorbitant. Madrid are almost €1billion in debt and, like Barcelona, shopping in the free market.

Varane could play six more games within the next three weeks and add a European Championship winners' medal to the World Cup and four Champions League golds in his collection. Madrid are bound to try and maximise his resale value.

Michael Carrick only played once at the 2006 World Cup but his composed performance against Ecuador in the last 16 was so impressive United ended up paying almost double their opening offer to Tottenham. Owen Hargreaves arrived in Germany that summer a scapegoat and left a tearful hero. Bayern Munich priced him out of a transfer to United.

Ed Woodward tried to save face for United's inexplicable failure to sign a centre half in 2018 by claiming he would have sanctioned a £100m move for Varane. This was a year after the mad market of 2017, when Manchester City spent £128.5m on three full-backs and Paris Saint-Germain acquired Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. Varane had just placed the World Cup in France's hand luggage back to Paris and helped Madrid to a three-peat in the Champions League. His value was well north of £100m.

United are working on a compromise to the £80m Madrid are idealistically holding out for. Some have suspected United will go as high as £75m, matching the fee Virgil van Dijk commanded three-and-a-half years ago.

The precedent Liverpool set with the Van Dijk fee proved problematic for United in 2018. Inter Milan demanded £76m for Milan Skriniar and Leicester valued Harry Maguire at £75m. United sources insisted Van Dijk was 'cheap' but felt the watershed deals for defensive transfers was set by City signing Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy for £50m and £52m a pop.

Madrid have craftily demanded £80m for Varane, knowing full well that is how much United paid for Maguire two years ago. Maguire is a world-class centre-back when he is not playing whereas Varane has been one of the finest centre-backs in the last decade. By that rationale, Madrid's valuation is fair.

United will be loath to match the £80m they spent on Maguire, having already invested £60m in successive summers for centre-backs Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof. Maguire reinforced the defence in 2019-20 but United sieved eight more goals in the Premier League last season and had the worst defensive record of the top four.

The last two Premier League title wins have been underpinned by transformative central defensive signings. Without Van Dijk, Liverpool's drought would have ticked past 30 years and Ruben Dias is perhaps the best centre-back in world football right now. Van Dijk received the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year and Dias the Football Writers' Association equivalent.

To that end, it is a failing of United they outspent City and Liverpool for their marquee defender who does not have a world-class ceiling. They have not so much mustered a championship challenge and are still trophyless.

Lindelof was a worthy man of the match in Sweden's goalless draw with Spain on Monday night and Rio Ferdinand was prescient in his pre-match analysis. "I think his game suits the national game in a lot of ways. The Premier League is very quick and physical.

"This (international football) is more of a thinking-defender's game and I think that definitely suits him. He's someone who likes to read and cover. With this team it seems like the main man in that defence and I think he's warmed to that. That suits him.

"When he plays in a yellow shirt he seems a very different player to the one I see in a Man United shirt." Ie. in the Premier League, Lindelof is exposed against speed or strength.

Varane possesses both attributes and, for a period last season, Maguire was better next to a more athletic partner in Bailly. Lindelof warmed up after the snow had thawed with standout performances against Manchester City and AC Milan.

Lindelof is not as complete a defender as Bailly but more dependable and durable. United cannot go a year without doling out an inexplicable contract to an underperformer and this year's recipient is Bailly.

Bailly still had the gall to issue an ultimatum on the eve of the Europa League final that he start ahead of the more available Axel Tuanzebe. Bailly required treatment when United trained the night before in Gdansk yet Ole Gunnar Solskjaer weakly selected him. Bailly did not see out the match.

Bailly is brittle, Tuanzebe underused, Lindelof lacking, and Phil Jones irrelevant. Harry Maguire's shortcomings are noticeable when he plays and his strengths when he does not. None of the five are world-class and if United are to challenge next season they need someone who is.

Even if they have to haggle for Varane.