Wednesday 09 September 2020, 07:00

Precocious Camavinga showing promise and progress

  • Eduardo Camavinga became the youngest post-war French international

  • A promising future awaits the 17-year-old midfielder

  • “Sooner or later he’ll be an integral part of this team,” said Didier Deschamps

Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane, or, more recently, Kylian Mbappe, all had the opportunity to make their international debuts in packed stadiums, thereby giving the fans present that day the chance to forever boast “I was there".

Unfortunately for Eduardo Camavinga, his first time pulling on the famous blue jersey came at an empty Stade de France, with the Covid-19 crisis making matches behind closed doors a necessity.

However, the prodigious midfielder had no need of witnesses in order to enter the history books. In coming off the bench in the 63rd minute of Les Bleus’ 4-2 UEFA Nations League win over Croatia, he became the youngest French international since World War II, aged 17 years and nine months.

Did you know?

The youngest player in the history of the French national team is Julien Verbrugghe. The former Red Star FC forward earned his first cap at the age of 16 years and ten months on 1 November 1906. Sadly, he died fighting for his country in 1916 during World War I. He was 26.

The ten youngest French internationals since WWII:

  • Eduardo Camavinga, 17 years and 9 months (2020)

  • Marian Wisniewski, 18 years and 2 months (1955)

  • Kylian Mbappe, 18 years and 3 months (2017)

  • Georges Lech, 18 years and 4 months (1963)

  • Serge Chiesa, 18 years and 8 months (1969)

  • Daniel Bravo, 19 years and 0 months (1982)

  • Yannick Stopyra, 19 years and 1 month (1980)

  • Nicolas Anelka, 19 years and 1 month (1998)

  • Thierry Tusseau, 19 years and 2 months (1977)

  • Karim Benzema, 19 years and 3 months (2007)

Rocky road

Known for his cheerful demeanour off the pitch and his composure and control – despite his inexperience – on it, Camavinga seems impervious to pressure. It is possibly that the reason for this lies in the hardships he has already endured in his young life, well before a career in professional football became a reality.

Born in an Angolan refugee camp to Congolese parents in 2002, he arrived in France with his family in 2003, living first in Lille and then in Brittany. In 2013, Eduardo, his parents and his five brothers and sisters had to overcome another major obstacle: the house that they had just built was destroyed in a fire, taking their savings along with it.

But Camavinga knows how to withstand a blow, having opted for judo – previously practised by his father – as his first sport. And if the newly capped starlet now takes stressful situations in his stride, it may also be due to his father placing a significant amount of pressure on his son’s shoulders from an early age.

Camavinga Sr, convinced that his son would become a top football player and be able to provide for his family, even went as far as to refuse the charitable collection that their local club had suggested organising after the fire. “You’re our family’s hope – you’ll raise us up,” he predicted.

No sooner said than done: having impressed at every youth category in his club in Fougeres, Eduardo joined Rennes’ youth academy, from which Yoann Gourcuff, Mikael Silvestre, Sylvain Wiltord and Ousmane Dembele all graduated, and continued to make excellent progress, eventually signing his first professional contract in December 2018.

Ander Herrera (L) of Paris Saint-Germain competes the ball with Eduardo Camavinga (R) of Stade Rennais 

Ahead of schedule

With the paternal prediction confirmed, Camavinga proceeded to put in performances that suggested that his future might be even brighter than hoped for, and that success might arrive much more quickly than expected.

Included in the Rennes starting line-up for the first time in May 2019, he has been one of the first names on the teamsheet ever since, becoming the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Breton club and saving his best displays for matches against high-calibre opposition like Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco, Lyon and Marseille.

Some observers would argue that it is no coincidence that season 2019/20 is the greatest in the history of Les Rouges et Noirs, resulting in a French Cup victory and an unprecedented qualification for the UEFA Champions League.

Effortless technique, pace, vision, speed of execution, passing accuracy, power: Camavinga has an array of footballing attributes that makes him highly effective all over the pitch.

In addition, the long interruption brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic does not appear to have held him back at all. On the contrary: during the opening match of the new Ligue 1 season against Lille, the gifted youngster came off the bench to set up the equalising goal in a 1-1 draw, and in the following game versus Montpellier, he scored Rennes’ second goal in a 2-1 win, slotting home from an angle after a great run featuring crowd-pleasing stepovers and feints.

Having obtained French nationality in November, Camavinga was subsequently called up to France’s U-21 squad. Even in that environment, he continued to stand out, and Didier Deschamps showed no hesitation in naming him in his squad for the Nations League matches against Sweden and Croatia.

Camavinga stepped out onto the pitch during the second half of the second encounter, and straight into the record books.

Eduardo Camavinga of France

What they said

“It may well be a bit early, but he would have made it eventually anyway. In terms of personality, you can feel it when he’s on the pitch – he has an influence despite his young age. He’s capable of doing great things for his age. We’ll have to be careful with him, but he’s got such potential that he’ll be an integral part of this team sooner or later.” Didier Deschamps, France coach

“Eduardo has really astounded us with his maturity, both on and off the pitch. I’d seen a few Rennes matches, so I wasn’t surprised. He’s very comfortable and very promising, and he’s only 17. What surprised me the most when I met him at Clairefontaine was how cheerful, confident and sociable he is. He’s a good young lad.” Olivier Giroud, France forward

“I can’t see anything in his future that would prevent him from having a fantastic career. He’s going to be one of the best players in the world. He’s hugely talented. Mbappe is a forward, so he gets a lot of attention, but Camavinga is definitely on an equal footing with him. He’s got so much potential. An unusual potential, to be frank – he plays almost like a 30-year-old.” Willy Sagnol, former France defender

“He was brought up to value sharing, joy and good humour. He’s got enough energy for several people. Things always go well for him in larger groups, because he’s so giving. He’s radiant when dealing with others, putting a smile on their faces. Eduardo has always been oriented towards other people. He often preferred setting up team-mates to scoring himself.” Mathieu Le Scornet, Rennes assistant coach, and Camavinga’s youth coach