Considering Eduardo Camavinga has only just entered the third full season of his professional football career, he certainly knows how to make a good first impression.
You may remember his debut for the French national team, when he became the second-youngest goal-scorer in the history of Les Bleus; spectacularly hooking the ball over his own head and sending it looping into the far corner, just nine minutes into the game.
But you’ll definitely remember his debut for Real Madrid, when he became the fifth-youngest goal-scorer in the history of Los Blancos; side-footing a parried Luka Modric shot into an open net, just six minutes after he entered the pitch.
After a dream start to his Spanish adventure, we’re delighted to have been able to speak to Rich Allen of Get French Football News, an expert on all things Stade Rennais FC, who told us everything we need to know about Carlo Ancelotti’s latest recruit.
A war-torn childhood
Born in an Angolan refugee camp to Congolese parents, fleeing a deadly war in their home-country, Camavinga’s sudden rise to the top has been as breath-taking as it has been breakneck. Moving to the small French town of Fougères at the age of two, the midfielder first kicked a ball when he was seven, having been signed up to the local team, Drapeau Fougères, by his parents. By the age of 10, he’d been picked up by regional scout Mathieu Le Scornet, who brought the young boy for trials at the nearby Ligue 1 side, Stade Rennais.
And, as it turned out, his new club came to his rescue almost immediately, providing charitable assistance to his parents as a devastating fire ripped through the family home. “I remember the fire as if it was yesterday” the midfielder recalled. “My parents had built the house with everything they had. But my father told me, you are going to be a great footballer, and you will rebuild this house”.
Just seven years later, visibly bursting with pride as he and his son stood either side of Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez, Celestino Camavinga could have hardly been more correct.
With the words of his father spurring him on, an 11-year-old Camavinga began his meteoric rise through the ranks at Rennes, impressing coaches with his technical ability and determination to succeed. And it wasn’t long before the young midfielder started to draw attention from some of the bigger names at the club, as then B-team coach Julien Stéphan remembered how he “discovered” a young Camavinga playing for the under-17s a year earlier than the rest.
December 2018, though, was the month that everything changed. As Sabri Lamouchi was sacked as Rennes head coach after a string of poor results, Stéphan became interim manager at the club, bringing a young Camavinga up with him. Rich recalls the “rumblings of another stellar talent emerging from the academy”, and indeed, three months later, the player “became the then youngest player to turn out for the club, coming on as a substitute away to Angers – funnily enough, the same fixture that former Rennes youth product Ousmane Dembélé had made his debut in four years before.”
An incredible rise to the top
After some good results in the UEFA Europa League, Stéphan was given the job permanently, and looked to integrate Camavinga slowly into his rapidly improving side. Shortly after his first substitute appearance, he made his first start in a 2-2 draw with Monaco, a performance that Rich remembers well: “I had to keep reminding myself of his age, as he just looked so at ease. Comfortable on the ball, energetic, eager, not afraid to get stuck in – it was the type of performance that you would expect from someone four or five years older.”
In 64 minutes, Camavinga maintained a 100% passing accuracy, a 60% tackle success rate and won 77% of his duels, as well as starting both of the moves that led to his side’s two goals, first with an important interception, and then with an instinctive tackle. After the youngster was substituted, Rennes “lost control of the game and conceded two goals”.
Rich also went on to highlight his performances at the beginning of the following 2019/2020 season, starting with a solid game in the Trophée des Champions final against Paris Saint-Germain, followed by a man-of-the-match performance against Montpellier in the first game of the Ligue 1 campaign. Perhaps his finest hour as a Rennes player then came just eight days later, again facing PSG, where the youngster “dominated the PSG midfield, consisting of Marco Verratti, Julian Draxler and Marquinhos, before delivering the perfect long ball into the box for Romain Del Castillo to head in the winner”. Composure, confidence and quality in such big games, it was the performance that underlined his sky-high potential. He had something different, and he was going to make it.
Style of play
A tireless, ball-winning midfielder, Camavinga has already shown that he can adapt to different roles in the centre of midfield, an encouraging sign that the 18-year-old is a perceptive player who can learn quickly. Starting out as much more of a defensive midfielder, Rich notes how the arrival of Steven N’Zonzi at Rennes at the beginning of the 2019/20 season gave Camavinga more attacking freedom, allowing the youngster to showcase his outstanding dribbling and passing ability to play a more progressive, box-to-box role.
Ranking in the top 10% of all midfielders from Europe’s top five leagues in terms of dribbles completed, progressive carrying distance, carries into the final third and fouls drawn last season, he is very adept at using his tall, slender figure to slalom between challenges, possessing that uncanny ability to seemingly play his way out of every situation. Constantly scanning the pitch, his high-level awareness, coupled with his excellent technical ability and intelligent movement means that he already has all the makings of one of the best press-resistant midfielders in world football.
Defensively, Camavinga’s boundless energy and fiery appetite to win the ball makes him one of the most accomplished tacklers in all of Europe, winning around four per game in Ligue 1 last season. Preferring to operate in the middle third, he also completes around 23 pressures per game, snapping away at the heels of any player who dares to cross the half-way line with the ball. Surprisingly physical, too, his unique mix of elegance on the ball and physicality off it means that Camavinga is well-equipped, even at the age of 18, to deal with most midfield customers.
While his passing is also very good, maintaining a 90% accuracy across the board, Camavinga could perhaps benefit from being more adventurous in his choice of pass. Rich notes that the “greater responsibility he was allowed in attack didn’t really generate the numbers of assists or goals that we might have expected”, suggesting that his game could become “a little stale” with his insistence on the safe ball to the flanks. Averaging 0.13 through balls per game last season, Camavinga’s shot creation stats are amongst the best in Europe from winning fouls and dribbles, but remain distinctly average from passes – so looking for the central, defence-splitting pass might be something that Carlo Ancelotti might look to encourage from him. Although, I guess Toni Kroos wouldn’t be the worst person to discuss that with, either.
Rich also points out that the youngster is “very left-footed”, to the extent that some Ligue 1 teams “worked out how to negate his impact” as he became a more regular starter. Last season, he averaged 51 passes per game with his stronger foot, but just over three with his weaker side, revealing a tendency for Camavinga to avoid movements that leave the ball on his right side. Again, though, the player himself has recognised his need to work on this, so it will be interesting to follow his progress in this regard.
That said, ultimately, the sublime technical ability and footballing intelligence is there for all to see. It’s down to the Real Madrid coaching staff to make sure they use it correctly.
A new beginning
Given all the happy memories, his eight-year spell at Stade Rennais and all the hype surrounding his name, Camavinga’s understated exit from French football might come across as slightly anticlimactic. Yet, shuffling to Madrid behind a Kylian Mbappé smokescreen, with minimal fuss, is probably the way that he would have preferred to go.
“He is very close to his family, had to endure a turbulent childhood, but always seems incredibly grounded and humbled” noted Rich. “Even this summer, he was going to see his little brother play football. He’s had a stadium named after him in Fougères, staying for hours while he took photos and signed autographs at the opening. Despite all his talent on the pitch, the game against PSG, his first goal for the club against Lyon, his debut with the France senior side and that incredible goal – it was those human touches that I was really fond of.”
Perhaps coinciding with the departures of both Julien Stéphan and Mathieu Le Scornet – the two men who had given him his opportunity – as well as all the distractions of new agents and big-money transfer rumours, the youngster’s form noticeably dipped throughout his last few months at Rennes. “I would’ve liked him to stay with us for a couple more seasons,” said Rich. “A move at this stage runs the risk of him; a) not playing regularly and missing out on a crucial stage of his development, b) losing that down-to-earth element that was so important, and c) getting lost in the glitz and the glamour that a move to a club like Real Madrid can bring. I genuinely wish the absolute best for him, but I just have that nagging concern in the back of my mind”.
There does just seem to be something about Eduardo Camavinga, though, that separates him from the rest. “His confidence, his composure, his ability to not be fazed by any scenario”, as Rich put it. His sense for the big occasion, as we all saw on Sunday night. That star quality, his adaptability, his humility.
Not just an immensely talented footballer with limitless potential, but a good person too, there will be tougher times to come for Eduardo Camavinga in a Real Madrid shirt. But given his admirable story, from refugee camps to 80,000-seater stadiums in just over 16 years, there probably aren’t many teenagers who are better equipped to deal with that kind of pressure.
To follow Camavinga's journey at Real Madrid, or to see which other young Real Madrid stars are beginning to shine, stay tuned via our Twitter at @LaLigaLowdown.