When football’s historians look back to Eduardo Camavinga’s first France call up, they are likely to see a fitting symbolism with the young central midfielder taking Paul Pogba’s room at Chateau de Clairefontaine, the bolthole just outside Paris where the world champions prepare for matches.
Manchester United star Pogba, who missed out on the squad as he recuperates after testing positive for Covid-19, has more to worry about than simply losing his habitual living space to the 17-year-old – this young upstart, who cites him as an “inspiration”, could well be the man to take his place long term in the team.
When 'Cama' took to the field for France against Croatia he became the youngest player to feature for Les Bleus since the outbreak of the First World War.
Born in Angola, he moved to France when he was two, attained citizenship in November of 2019 and promises to follow in the footsteps of Kylian Mbappe as being the country’s next great footballing talent.
Of course, he has enormous boots to fill, Mbappe having played a key role in Les Bleus’ World Cup 2018 victory, but it is clear that the player brought up in Brittany will complete his race to the top of the game should he avoid injury and maintain a clear head.
Camavinga, who already has an FC ranking of 79, the best of any midfield teenager, is the next of the generational talents to emerge from the academy system, though for regular watchers of Ligue 1 he is not a new name. Having broken into the Rennes side in the latter stages of the 2018-19 season, he has since established himself as a regular for the Breton outfit, playing no small role in their qualification to the Champions League for the first time.
Now he has made his big breakthrough, coming off the bench for France against Croatia in the Nations League. With his appearance, he became the second youngest player ever to turn out for Les Bleus behind Maurice Gastiger in 1914.
Unsurprisingly, given his obvious talent, both Real Madrid and Manchester United have been closely following his progress, which suggests he could have the same impact in his area of the pitch as Mbappe enjoyed further forward.
The 2020-21 season may only be a fortnight old in France, but there is already a suggestion that Camavinga is set to raise the bar further on his performance.
Deployed as a defensive midfielder in the main last term, he has been used slightly further forward by head coach Julien Stephan in tough matches against Lille and Montpellier. He thrived in both.
With Steven N’Zonzi now charged with a lone sitting role in front of the defence, Camavinga has been asked to play a more dynamic, box-to-box role in a 4-3-3 system. His entry off the bench in the 1-1 draw against Lille transformed the shape of the match, earning him a starting berth against Montpellier last weekend, in which he notched the game-winning goal with a solo run that amply showed that he is not a simple water carrier.
“That goal against Montpellier sums up what he is capable of doing,” France boss Didier Deschamps said. “Despite his young age, he’s very confident. The two or three body feints he made, without touching the ball, shows that he has this technical ease that can allow him to be decisive in the attacking zones.”
He may only be 17, but already Camavinga looks to have it all.
His frame may still possess the slightness of a teenager, but he is sinewy, a legacy of his love of judo before he concentrated full-time of football, while he is agile and quick. His head is that of a far more experienced player, while he is technically all that would be expected of a graduate from a Rennes academy that can go toe-to-toe with any club in Europe when it comes to producing footballers cut out to make it in the elite five leagues.
“When he has space, he can move,” Stephan said. “He reads these spaces well, he is punchy, he is unsettling, and he is confusing. He has these qualities for the very highest level.”
Having accumulated just two goals and a single assist in Ligue 1 play before the start of this season, by almost doubling these figures in two games, he has already shown that when given greater freedom he can thrive.
He is punchy, he is unsettling, and he is confusing. He has these qualities for the very highest level.Julien Stephan
Stephan, however, has denied that the No.10 shirt he now wears for his club is a symbol of where the left footer will play in the long term.
“Ten is his favourite number because he was born on November 10. Don’t see it as a sign,” the coach said.
Meanwhile, Deschamps, whose assistant Guy Stephan is the father of the Rennes boss, is not expecting too much from the youngster on debut.
“It’s early, very, very early for him. I know he has the potential, even if there’s a risk he will experience a more difficult period. That doesn’t mean he’s not capable, even if it takes a while to get used to the international level,” the coach said.
Camavinga, too, remains level-headed about his sudden ascent.
“I know where I’m from,” he said. “If I do anything, my parents will be there to bring me back down to earth, they’re with me every day since I’m still at home.
“I don’t feel any pressure. It’s encouraging when the manager trusts you.”
And so, with only 45 senior club appearances under his belt, he debuted against Croatia – around 200 days sooner than Mbappe made his bow for the national team.
This is a measure of just how rapid his progress has been and how highly he is thought of in his homeland.
Paul Pogba better watch out.