Muddassir Hussain | Twitter: @muddassirjourno
In August 2019, Paris Saint Germain visited Roazhon Park to take on Stade Rennes, in what was their second game this season. But Thomas Tuchel’s midfield – featuring the likes of Marquinhos, Marco Verratti and Julian Draxler – were in for a surprise. To say they were outplayed, out-thought and outmanoeuvred by the Rennes midfield would be an understatement, the Parisian trio were played off the park. And one player particularly stood out – Eduardo Camavinga.
It was at that moment the world began paying attention. But oddly, for anyone who knew of his talents, his Ligue 1 Player of the Month award in August wouldn’t have been a surprise. Camavinga has something about him, something Rennes haven’t witnessed since Ousmane Dembele.
His former teammate Hatem Ben Arfa isn’t the only one to wax lyrical about the teenager. Speaking to ESPN, the mercurial Frenchman described the first time Camavinga trained with the first team:
“We were all like ‘wow’. He was incredible. Technically and physically, he is a monster. Everything he does is perfect. For me, he is the modern midfielder by definition. There is nothing he can’t do. He can defend, tackle, head the ball, create, score, assist. He is powerful but gifted technically with his left foot. He is intelligent and elegant. You would have rarely seen a player like him at his age. Because let’s not forget: he’s still 16.”
For some players, an event in their early life usually cements their passion and hunger to succeed. And indeed, Camavinga is no different to others in that respect. The youngster, who was just two when his family moved from Angola to France, saw his house burn down as his family lost everything. It was his rough childhood and that tragedy which shaped the young man Camavinga is today.
A year before his first team debut, Camavinga had been playing in the French fourth division with the Rennes reserves, and that is where he caught the eye of the club’s former academy director, Landry Chauvin.
“Since he joined us aged 10 from a local club, he was destined for great things. He was always ahead of everyone else in his age group, but also, he was ahead of players one or two age groups above him in terms of talent, intelligence and maturity.”
Now aged 17, it’s obvious that Chauvin’s analysis of the phenomenon in front of him was accurate. He’s now destined for a move to the elite. But as several European giants circle, there’s a sense that his next move could actually be a move which players generally consider the biggest step, as Real Madrid find themselves ahead of the queue.
Several French and Spanish publications have confirmed Madrid are not only interested, but have made Camavinga a priority this summer. So what are the 13-time European champions getting for their money?
The first time I heard his name was back in March 2019, a colleague of mine at Omnisport France was raving about his performance, which saw Camavinga score a hat-trick from his defensive midfield position against fifth-tier side Lannion for the Rennes reserves. A week before that, he scored against Montagnarde. He had outgrown the second team so quickly, his talents were crying out for a regular first team starting berth.
And in his first season since becoming a regular, he hasn’t looked back. Camavinga has transformed the club, he brings people to the stadium, he creates excitement, he is the sort of player fans marvel at, knowing they better enjoy him now, before it is too late.
At his age, I haven’t seen anyone who has quite bossed a midfield and carried the burden of a team like Camavinga has done during his breakthrough campaign. I recall a quote from an amazed Sir Alex Ferguson describing Fernando Redondo’s performance at Old Trafford in April 2000: “What does this player have in his boots? A magnet?”
Camavinga reminds me of the great Argentine. Perhaps it is my mind playing tricks on me, this yearning of seeing Redondo on the pitch once more could mean my mind has falsely compared the two. But then I see the way Camavinga carries the ball from deep, magnetically, it sticks to his left-foot as he weaves in and out of challenges, dribbling out of danger and sparking attack after attack. I see the acceleration, the vision, the technique, the close-control, I see him controlling, setting and dictating the pace in which Rennes play at. And then I see a combination of efficiency and aggressiveness in winning the ball back from the opposition. But it’s not just what he does, it’s also the way he does it. Camavinga has that aura Redondo had, he has that swagger about him. It’s all these traits, all these attributes which combine to put a smile on my face. Because over 20 years since Los Blancos sold Redondo, the club is closing in on signing the closest player I’ve ever seen to the man known as El Principe.
Many will argue he’s the heir to Casemiro, and that’s probably correct. On the face of it, the prime reason to spend over 50 million euros on the player will be to rotate with Casemiro and be his natural successor, though he’s not like the brash Brazilian, he’s different, but can certainly serve a similar purpose. And statistics will back that up.
Throughout this season, Camavinga has made the most tackles in Ligue 1 this year, tallying up over 100 tackles, and having made 214 of them, he is also second in the league in terms of duels won. For a team like Real who relies on Fede Valverde and Casemiro winning duels and regaining possession, 8.6 duels won per game, and 4.2 tackles per game, coupled with his insane passing accuracy, not only highlights his vast talent-set, but also his versatility when it comes to playing in front of the defence.
Look at the above stats in this diagram. Three facts which stood out to me here are the successful tackles he makes per 90 minutes, he makes 1.51 interceptions per game and has a dribbling success of nearly 67%. We’re not talking about the finished article, of course not, and no one should expect him to be ticking every box, but for a 17-year old, it’s special to see him hit the heights he currently is.
Over the last few days, Real’s plans to bring Camavinga in for next season might have taken a hit. French publication L’Equipe revealed the teenager has an agreement with the club to stay an extra year at Rennes, should they qualify for the UEFA Champions League. And as things stand, they are on course for that, especially if the season was to be cancelled due to Covid-19, because they sit in third place.
But for Real, it shouldn’t matter. We’re talking about a player who is on course to mark a decade in his position, a player who it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to describe him as a Kylian Mbappe-type of talent, he is genuinely that good. Real need to get the signing done, and quickly. This one simply cannot slip through the net, even if that means signing the player, but agreeing with Rennes on their terms and allowing Camavinga to stay for one more season. It’s a long-term agreement which will no doubt be fruitious.
He’s special, extraordinary and unique, and it’s no wonder a scout from a top European club had this to say about the Rennes superstar:
“Talent like this, so precocious but already so mature, doesn’t come along very often in football. Camavinga has been so impressive. I don’t think there is anyone as strong as him in Europe in his age group.”