Eduardo Camavinga is not used to waiting. This is a man for whom everything has happened. The youngest player in the history of Rennes, at 16 years and four months. The youngest to be named player of the month in Ligue 1. The youngest male France international for over 100 years. For Camavinga, the trajectory of his career has been steep, fast and spectacular. Until, that is, he joined that of Carlo Ancelotti Real Madridand was forced to wait his turn.
Camavinga signed for Madrid on the last day of last summer’s transfer window, an all-around midfielder coveted across the continent. The fee, £ 26.6 million with add-ons, looked like a bargain for a teenage wonder child of rare versatility and tranquility. With Toni Kroos and Luka Modric well over 30 and Casemiro just crossing that threshold, Camavinga was rave welcomed in the capital, and immediately urged to take the Bernabéu by storm.
At which point, not much happened. Camavinga took a month to get his first start. It was November before Ancelotti entrusted him with a full 90 minutes in the league. Of his 39 games for Madrid this season, 23 came as a substitute. He was on the bench for their last 10 Champions League games, including their entire run through the knockout stages. He is likely to start on the bench again in Saturday’s final against Liverpool. And yet, with the possible exception of Karim Benzema, there is no Madrid player whose contribution will be more eagerly awaited, no player about whom Liverpool will be more cautious.
To find out why, you need to look beyond the simple numbers. Camavinga was Madrid’s 15th most used player in this season’s Champions League, contributing just one assist. But their run to the final was assured on the back of three amazing second returns against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City. Without Camavinga, they would probably have lost all three.
Against PSG, he replaced Kroos on the hour, allowing Modric the freedom to wander further and tie with Benzema, whose hat-trick turned into a 2-0 overall deficit. in a 3-2 victory. Against Chelsea, his introduction immediately transformed a game that Real humbly surrendered but then won 5-4 overall. Against City, he was simply everywhere: coming after 75 minutes, breaking City attacks, spreading a game quickly, playing the cross from which Madrid would score the first goal. in a remarkable 3-1 comeback win.
What tied all three performances – 125 minutes during which Madrid won eight times and conceded once – was speed. Camavinga is a player of immense physical talents – speed, agility, balance, strength – but his real talent is speed of thought, the ability to see things faster than anyone else. Eliminate the counterattack when it is still a concept. Play the forward pass with just enough speed and spin. His long diagonal balls are notable for their flat, skimpy trajectory, changing the angle of attack without allowing defenses time to restart.
All of this raises an interesting question: if Camavinga is so good, why didn’t he play more? Why doesn’t he start? “I don’t like not playing,” he confessed in an interview last week. But he is also a realist. He knows that in Modric, Kroos and Casemiro he is trying to drive out three of the biggest midfielders in the modern game. And so now Ancelotti has convinced him – with his usual charm – to channel his energies into a high-impact closing role, catching games against tiring opponents.
“He has to learn and gain experience,” Ancelotti said earlier this season. “He doesn’t have it yet, but he’s only 19 years old. Every day when he trains with Modric, Kroos or Casemiro, he is a master. Camavinga is the present and the future of this club. “
And all the evidence suggests that Camavinga is learning. After all, he always had to grow up fast: born in a refugee camp in Angola, educated in Fougères in the west of France, prepared for football stardom from an early age. When he was 11, his family lost everything they owned in a house fire. “You will rebuild this house,” his father told him. Now, as a man, Camavinga may be concerned with rebuilding Madrid.
After years of gravity-challenging excellence, Kroos seems to be in a mild decline. Modric is still great but will turn 37 in September; Meanwhile, the pursuit of Aurélien Tchouaméni from Monaco is a recognition of the need for a long-term replacement for Casemiro. For almost a decade this trio has defined the identity of a Madrid team that craves control, which is gradually trying to strangle opponents. Camavinga represents a completely different ideal: faster, more dynamic, more vertical, more aggressive. If Modric and Kroos show where Madrid came from, it’s Camavinga showing us where they might be going.
And so to Paris in the spring, and a game that many of Real’s veterans – right up to Ancelotti himself – are likely to step on. On the contrary, this will be the biggest 90 minutes of Camavinga’s short career, even if he will probably spend enough of them looking from the side. Anyway, for those of us waiting to see what this most precious talent can do on the biggest stage, the wait may have just ended.