Watch Out Ballon d'Or, Because Eduardo Camavinga Is the Real Deal

Declan Houten
Dec 8, 2020, 4:02 PM GMT
Camavinga made his debut for Rennes at the age of 16
Camavinga made his debut for Rennes at the age of 16 | PASCAL GUYOT/Getty Images
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In those increasingly common moments where you see Lionel Messi struggle to latch onto a tempting through ball or Cristiano Ronaldo getting out-jumped in the penalty area, it's a sobering reminder that their period of joint supremacy in the game is gracefully but noticeably beginning to wind down.

Talk will inevitably turn towards the next in the order of succession for football's crown, with PSG's electrifying attacking duo of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé the two most obvious candidates.

And if they don't win it every year? Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah, Jadon Sancho, Serge Gnabry, Mason Greenwood, Ansu Fati and Kai Havertz are the most prominent names on a long list of attacking players happy to step in.

Camavinga is holding his own in the same league as Mbappé and Neymar
Camavinga is holding his own in the same league as Mbappé and Neymar | JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/Getty Images

What would it take for a player in a traditionally defensive position to win it? Is it possible to compete with players putting up 30-40 goal contributions a season for recognition when your role is to sit at the base of midfield and keep things ticking over?

You're competing with the hypnotic dribbling of Neymar and Mbappé's ability to relentlessly identify the Achilles heel in any defence, and maybe in the future with the near-perfect sharpshooting of Greenwood and Fati. In short, you've got to do something which catches the eye, in a position where it's very hard to do so.

Looking at the world's two outstanding defensive-minded midfielders in Frenkie de Jong and Joshua Kimmich, to mark yourself out as the best player in the world from a deep-lying midfield role, you'd have to, well...do everything.

So when a defensive midfielder is not only doing it all, but doing it all at the age of 18, the status quo of the footballing world should begin to take notice. That defensive midfielder? Eduardo Camavinga.

Back in September, Camavinga once again came close to perfection for Rennes against Saint-Étienne during a thumping 3-0 win for Les Rennais, and in doing so fired another warning shot to the elite of the beautiful game.

Three separate moments from the barnstorming victory were emblematic of fundamental quality which marks out the young Frenchman from so many of his peers - the ability to perform the full gamut of midfield responsibilities at a near-impeccable standard.

He came close to creating a goal by brilliantly chasing down a loose Timothée Kolodziejczak clearance early doors, picked out Serhou Guirassy with a delightful switch of play about half an hour into the match, and even found time to twist Romain Hamouma inside-out towards the end of the first half with his trademark take on the classic chop move.

Camavinga has shown that he belongs on the same pitch as the likes of Verratti and Marquinhos
Camavinga has shown that he belongs on the same pitch as the likes of Verratti and Marquinhos | Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

This was Camavinga in full flight, and given he was doing all this at the obscenely young age of 17, you would have been forgiven for assuming that this was a breakout performance for the young man, perhaps his first ever introduction to the limelight.

The truth is that there have already been several such breakout performances, and that what would be a career-defining performance for most youngsters was just another weekend's heroics for a player who is now essential to an ambitious and overachieving Rennes side.

When Camavinga really broke out the stakes were much higher - a tight game against a PSG side with an all-conquering reputation in France, a need to keep things steady against a three-man midfield of Julian Draxler, Marquinhos and Marco Verratti.

Camavinga is establishing himself on the international stage
Camavinga is establishing himself on the international stage | Xavier Laine/Getty Images

A 16-year-old Camavinga here demonstrated that he possessed the essence of a defensive midfielder, the control that is so crucial when it comes to anchoring a contest against a volatile and efficient team like PSG.

Faced with the task of containing some of the most composed midfielders of his generation, he completed 40 of his 41 passes (via Sofascore) and drew foul after foul with the close control which is so evident to those that watch him.

In the 48th minute, he decided that this deep-lying nonsense was all a bit too simple and even added a rare assist, curling in an inch-perfect cross to find Romain Del Castillo at the back post, and it's this cherry on the icing on the cake which shows how he adds his own twist to the archetype of the defensive midfielder, marrying that conventional control with intent and aggression.

Indeed, one moment from Camavinga's 27 minutes of action on debut for France showed that there is nothing conventional or cautious about him - he's a defensive midfielder who plays firmly on the front foot.

Backed into the touchline by two Croatia players, he could have played the ball into touch to avoid a costly turnover, but instead opted for a dexterous backheel to free up Moussa Sissoko. This matches up with what the numbers tell us about Camavinga - though a gifted defender, he realises that his role is at its deadliest when it can be readily converted into attack.

He might have completed the seventh-most tackles in last season's Ligue 1, but he also was the fifth-best long-range passer at 90.6% completion, and aggressively won the ball in the final third, recording the league's third most pressures. Make no mistake about it, he's no water-carrier.

Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern are known admirers
Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern are known admirers | Xavier Laine/Getty Images

Might Madrid, that crucible of football, where some prospective Ballon d'Or winners fail, and where others are forged, be Camavinga's next destination, or will Manchester United - potentially losing Paul Pogba if motormouth Mino Raiola is to be believed - swoop in and take him to England? It could be neither of those, with Champions League holders Bayern Munich known admirers who are confident of taking him to the Bundesliga

That is the speculation doing the rounds ahead of next summer, and it is notable that the one arena where the Rennes regular French international remains untested is the high-octane, high-pressure arena of Champions League football, where he needs as much space as he can possibly create for himself.

And yet the greatest space which lies ahead of him, it could be said, is the amount of time and opportunity he has to elevate his game, and push beyond the perfection and versatility which already distinguishes him from those of his age.

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