Eduardo Camavinga handles pressure better than most. “I remember the fire as if it were yesterday,” Camavinga told Ouest-France in May. “I was at school and through the windows I saw the firefighters. I saw the damage with my own eyes, the burned house.” His family had moved from Angola and built that house themselves. Now they were watching it burn “Things were really not going well for my family,” said Camavinga. After relocating the family to a new home, Camavinga’s father turned to his 10-year-old son and said: “Eduardo, you are the hope of the family, it is you who will raise us up.” He has not let his father down.
Many children would find such expectations difficult to bear, but Camavinga took it in his stride. “At the time it made me laugh,” he says. “I was carefree. I didn’t necessarily take it seriously.” Now, however, he takes a great deal seriously. The 17-year-old’s focused, magnetic and domineering performances helped Rennes qualify for the Champions League and he has now been rewarded with his first call-up to the France squad.
Modern midfielders are often divided into neat categories, but defining Camavinga’s natural role is a little tricky. He can do it all. Saying a player is “versatile” usually implies that, even though their skillset is broad, they do not really impress in any particular area. Camavinga, however, is excellent in each midfield department.
He is a dynamic and mobile athlete who can play a box-to-box role. Despite his lean physique, he can play a more physical game, bullishly protecting Rennes’ back four as a firefighting sentinel. He is also graceful, precise on the ball and blessed with the technical gifts to play as a deep-lying No 10, where he can astutely pick passes and create opportunities for teammates. On top of all that, he is quick enough to play directly and skilful enough to bamboozle defenders with his sleight of foot. When speaking about his style earlier this year, he said: “I love playing passes to my teammates, but a great tackle, visually, it’s beautiful too. Before [last] season, I’d never played No 6 but I learned to love this position. No 8, I like it too. I like to have spaces.”
His wide range of abilities have already been on show this season under Julien Stéphan, who initially recruited Camavinga for the Rennes youth system before moving up to the first team and taking the teenager with him. Rennes largely have Camavinga to thank for the four points they have accrued so far in the league. On the opening weekend, he was introduced after an hour against Lille and shifted a tight encounter towards the visitors. With Rennes a goal behind and both sides a man down, Camavinga dominated, displaying an impressive level of control for one so young. His near post flick-on set up Damien Da Silva’s equaliser.
With Camavinga restored to the team this weekend, Rennes outplayed a sluggish looking Montpellier to win 2-1. Camavinga again led the charge and put the game beyond reach with a great goal – the standout strike of the weekend in Ligue 1. Having exchanged passes with Faitout Maouassa, he darted into the penalty area before a multitude of body-swerves, shoulder-drops and stepovers left Montpellier centre-back Pedro Mendes on the turf and Camavinga with the space to fire a low shot past keeper Jonas Omlin.
Despite that slaloming run and finish (which was similar to the winning goal he scored against Lyon last season), goalscoring remains an area where Camavinga can improve. In his 45 appearances for Rennes he has only scored twice and picked up three assists. He will push on this season, especially if he keeps playing alongside Steven N’Zonzi, who will allow him to be more adventurous. Camavinga has already become the player his team relies upon to instigate attacks, unbalance defences early in a move or contribute a key pass or dribble in the buildup to a chance. He is playing in a Champions League-level squad that includes a World Cup winner, Ligue 1 stalwarts and other talented youngsters yet “Iceman” – as his teammates call him – has quickly become Stéphan’s most important player.
Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and other clubs are reportedly interested in signing Camavinga but, with Champions League football guaranteed this season, he has confirmed he will stay at Roazhon Park this summer. If he keeps developing at his current trajectory and avoids a major injury or too many dips in form, he will probably leave next summer as an 18-year-old with 100 senior games under his belt.
He already exudes maturity in both his style of play and his personality. “I like to run for my teammates,” he said earlier this year. “If I don’t work on the pitch, my mother will tell me, my father too.” There are obvious roadblocks in his path – he could lose fitness, form, confidence or drive – but Camavinga’s potential ceiling is the highest of any teenager in world football. He has the talent to ensconce himself at the top of the European game for the next 20 years.
If Camavinga makes his international debut against Sweden or Croatia in the Nations League matches later this month, he will become the youngest player to earn a France cap in more than a century, beating Kylian Mbappé by nearly six months. Comparisons between the two players are more than apt. So much so that, after a game last season, an opposition player joked with Camavinga that they should swap shirts quickly “before you move to Real Madrid.” Such pressure might easily destabilise a young footballer, but Camavinga remains typically focused. His rise so far? As he said himself: “It’s a good start.”
Ligue 1 talking points
• Alongside Camavinga, the uncapped Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig) and Houssem Aouar (Lyon) were included in Didier Deschamps’ youthful new France squad. Adrien Rabiot also made his first appearance since infamously refusing a place on the standby list for the 2018 World Cup.
• Lyon returned to domestic action on Friday night with a 4-1 rout of Dijon. Amid talk of a transfer to Barcelona, Memphis Depay bagged a hat-trick and then told Téléfoot Chaine: “One needs to think about his career, his ambitions. Without the Champions League, it is hard. For the moment, I am here.” Depay added that he had not spoken to Ronald Koeman yet.
Ligue 1 results
Reims 0-1 Lille
Angers 0-2 Bordeaux
Metz 0-1 Monaco
Nantes 2-1 Nimes
St Etienne 2-0 Lorient
Brest 2-3 Marseille
Rennes 2-1 Montpellier
Strasbourg 0-2 Nice
Lyon 4-1 Dijon