He’s 19 and has only started one Champions League game all season but Eduardo Camavinga could be Real Madrid’s most important player at the Stade de France on Saturday.
The French prodigy, signed from Rennes for £34m last summer, isn’t making the headlines like Karim Benzema or Luka Modric, but he was Madrid’s turning point on their way to the final.
While they were waiting for defeat in the second legs of the knockout stages against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City, Carlo Ancelotti turned to Camavinga every time, and every time he was rewarded.
Madrid’s recovery comes from their exceptional record in the competition – “it’s the history of this club that helps us carry on when it seems like we’re gone,” says Ancelotti – but they have a player who is theirs future represents, much to be thanked for.
In all three games, Camavinga brought quality and composure on the ball and tenacity off the ball, showing maturity well beyond his years and providing the momentum needed to turn the momentum irrevocably in Madrid’s favour.
Against PSG, his substitution for Toni Kroos when Madrid were two goals down provided the platform for Modric to push further up the ladder, from where he was able to link up with Benzema to devastating effect as they came from behind.
Against Chelsea, his pressing forced turnovers for both of Madrid’s goals and he was also there in crucial moments against City, delivering the cross to Benzema to set up the first and then recapturing the ball to set up the attack for the second to start. He even played the crucial pass before the penalty for the third.
Camavinga is an outstanding all-around midfielder whose range is evident in his touch and heatmaps in competition this season. But his contribution to Madrid’s presence in the final doesn’t jump into the stats.
He has yet to score a goal in the competition this season. His only assist came in a group stage win over Inter Milan in September. He has completed fewer Champions League minutes than Lucas Vasquez.
And yet Jurgen Klopp will be acutely aware of what his introduction could mean for his side – even if Liverpool are ahead in this instance. As a matter of fact, especially when they’re ahead when it happens.
Camavinga could change the course of Saturday’s game, but for his part, he knows his chances of playing more than a backup role are slim.
Kroos and Modric have started every game in the knockout stages and Casemiro is a similarly indestructible figure behind them. All three want to win the competition on Saturday for the fifth time. This experience is irreplaceable.
But Camavinga has taken on his supporting role – even if it is unfamiliar to him.
He joined Madrid aged 18 having already played 88 senior games for Rennes. He remains the youngest player in his former club’s history at 16 and four months old. At the end of 2020, he became France’s youngest player and goalscorer in over a century.
His amazing talent earned him a long list of suitors at Rennes and many expected on his arrival in Spain that his signing, as Modric turns 36 and Kroos turns 32, would mean a changing of the guard in Madrid midfield.
A goal on his La Liga debut just six minutes after he came on from the bench to replace Eden Hazard in September’s 5-2 win against Celta Vigo confirmed those expectations, letting Ancelotti of his character and considerable Talent impresses back.
“We all know his physical and technical quality,” said Ancelotti. “Then he showed his personality on the pitch. We didn’t know anything about that. What happens in games doesn’t worry him, he’s confident.”
However, Camavinga had only started six games before Christmas, and Ancelotti decided to break him in slowly. Fast forward another five months and that number is still only 15.
Camavinga has had to show patience but he remains at the heart of the club’s plans – and those of Ancelotti. “Camavinga is the present and the future of this club,” said the Real Madrid coach in March. “It’s very clear for him and for us.
“The day Modric, Casemiro and Kroos are older we will have Camavinga, Federico Valverde and the youngsters who are in Castilla like Antonio Blanco. We have the ideal relief for these legends of the club.”
And in the meantime, they have someone who can change the game from the bench. Camavinga is already well known to the French public. But Saturday at the Stade de France might be remembered as the day he announces himself to the world.
If Madrid struggle in the second half, if Modric and Kroos tire and Ancelotti needs something special from someone else in their midfield, Camavinga will be ready and waiting.