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When as an 18-year-old prospect Eduardo Camavinga signed for Real Madrid last summer no one expected him to win over the supporters inside just one season.
In front of him at Madrid he had the best midfield trio in the club’s history. Up against Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric he would be the apprentice watching and learning as much as participating in the big games.
‘Not for nothing is [Luka] Modric a Balon d’Or winner,’ Camavinga told L’Equipe recently. ‘If I tried those passes with the outside of my foot I would break my ankle.’
Eduardo Camavinga has won over the Real Madrid supporters in just one year at the club
But while the humility was admirable the climax to the season has suggested a very different reality. He’s 19-years-old now, and in just one campaign he has done enough to win over the supporters; many even see him as Modric’ long-term successor.
He has the same capacity to play a variety of midfield roles. He has the same levels of energy and personality. And his ball to Karim Benzema in the first of the three late goals against Manchester City that put Real Madrid into Saturday’s final with Liverpool, suggest he will quickly develop the same exquisite passing repertoire.
The club moved bravely in the transfer market last summer. Paris Saint-Germain were also interested in the Rennes youngster but had decided that it was a year too soon to sign him for big money. Madrid moved 12 months earlier than their rivals, with an upfront payment of 31m euros that will rise to 45m, and they have been proved right.
Many fans see the 19-year-old star as Luka Modric’s long-term successor at Real Madrid
He has the same capacity to play a variety of midfield roles. He has the same levels of energy
For years they had been linked to Paul Pogba but there were always reservations about the Manchester United midfielder and the astronomical sums of money involved in signing him. As soon as they saw Camvinga as a 17-year-old at Rennes they were convinced they could sign someone who would be better than Pogba one day.
Pogba himself has commented on the huge potential: ‘He is a little dancer. He reminds me a bit of myself, he said after Camavinga scored on his full France debut in 2020. ‘He is not a timid person; he has confidence in his quality.’
It was against PSG, who had stepped back from signing him last summer, that he had his first starring role.
The picture below is of Madrid supporters waiting for the team bus ahead of the PSG game. One fan is wearing Camavinga’s number 25 as he hangs off a lamppost to get a better view of the arriving coach.
Even before the first of the three incredible European comebacks – he plays a part in each – he has his own solid following among the club fans. That No 25 shirt would only become more and more prized as the season went on.
Camavinga’s ball to Karim Benzema in the first of the three late goals against Manchester City that put Real Madrid into Saturday’s Champions League final with Liverpool
Real Madrid saw the potential in Camavinga when they first saw him play at just 17-year-old. They thought he had the potential to become better than Manchester United’s Paul Pogba
Before the big Champions League nights there was a period of adaptation. Just five days after his presentation last summer he came on as a substitute for his debut in Real Madrid’s 5-2 win over Celta Vigo scoring the fourth after following in Modric’s blocked shot.
But in a recent L’Equipe interview he admitted to being a little surprised by the incredibly high level in training, joking that the speed of the passing drills left him spending more time in the middle chasing the ball than he wanted to.
And he didn’t play a full 90 minutes in the league until a win over Rayo Vallecano in the middle of November. Of his 13 starts in the league only five came before the turn of the year.
When Real Madrid played and won the four-team Spanish Super Cup in January he was largely a spectator getting 11 minutes of extra-time in the semi-final and nothing in the final.
Camavinga has become a fan favourite after proving his worth in the Real Madrid first-team
Camavinga was surprised by the incredibly high level in training, joking that the speed of the passing drills left him spending more time in the middle chasing the ball than he wanted to
There were rumours in the winter-window that clubs were looking to take him on loan but there was never any doubt in his mind that staying the course in his first season was the right thing to do.
Despite strong suggestions to the contrary Liverpool were never among potential January takers. And even if they had been, changing clubs was not an option: he knew his time would come sooner rather than later.
Sure enough, when Carlo Ancelotti took Toni Kroos off on 57 minutes in the second leg of Real Madrid’s last-16 game with PSG Camavinga came on and helped change the tie and Madrid’s season.
They were being knocked out and the Italian coach appeared to be blooding the future of the club’s midfield as this season’s tilt at the top European title slipped away but he played his part as Real Madrid came back to win 3-1 on the night and go through.
More was to come against Chelsea in the next round. Kroos was the man replaced once more, this time letting the world see how much the decision upset him. Chelsea were 2-0 up on the night and before Camavinga could even touch the ball they scored again to go 3-2 up on aggregate. But he inspired Madrid as they dug out two more goals to go through.
Against Manchester City there’s a slight change to the script: Camavinga comes on for Modric instead of Kroos with 15 minutes left and Real Madrid once again going out. He waves his magic wand left-foot to loft a pass over the top of City’s defence to Karim Benzema who then crosses for Rodrygo who scores the all-important first.
In extra time it’s Camavinga’s run that leads to the winner. He bursts forward with the ball at his feet before teeing up Rodrgyo who crosses to Benzema who is brought down for the penalty he then scores.
In this dramatic Champions League run-in and in his league performances he has shown his adaptability to various roles. It’s still not clear where he will end up playing. He has the acceleration and the final pass to play further forward but he has also been used as the holding midfielder learning from the best.
Casemiro has told him about the importance of not picking up an early card in games. It was unavoidable against Sevilla in one crucial game towards the end of the season and after the first half caution Ancelotti took him off at half-time. But it was no reflection on how he had played, operating with all the authority of a veteran. If Madrid want him to replace the Brazilian he could do the job. Alongside the holder as one of the midfield pistons he is just as effective.
The third oldest of six siblings, born in a refugee camp in Angola where the family had escaped to because of war in Congo, Camavinga has never had it easy.
He speaks eloquently about those early experiences and it’s already clear he is going to become a role model for young players from similar circumstances for years to come.
On Saturday he’ll just be a teenager in a Champions League final. A 19-year-old with the world at his feet and some of the most difficult to please fans in football already long won over.