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Eduardo Camavinga has won over the Real Madrid supporters in just one season

When 18-year-old prospect Eduardo Camavinga signed for Real Madrid last summer, no one expected him to win over supporters within a season.

Before him in Madrid, he had the best midfield trio in the club’s history. Against Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric, he would be the apprentice who watches and learns, but also participates in the big matches.

‘Not for nothing’ [Luka] Modric a Balon d’Or winner,” Camavinga recently told L’Equipe. “If I tried those steps with the outside of my foot, I’d break my ankle.”

Eduardo Camavinga has won over the Real Madrid supporters at the club within a year

Eduardo Camavinga has won over the Real Madrid supporters at the club within a year

But while the humility was admirable, the season’s climax suggested a very different reality. He is now 19 years old and in just one campaign he has done enough to win over the supporters; many even see him as Modric’s long-term successor.

He has the same capacity to play different midfield roles. He has the same levels of energy and personality. And his ball for Karim Benzema in the first of three late goals against Manchester City that brought Real Madrid into the final with Liverpool on Saturday suggest he will soon develop the same superb passing repertoire.

The club moved boldly in the transfer market last summer. Paris Saint-Germain were also interested in the young Rennes, but had decided it was a year too early to sign him for a lot of money. Madrid moved 12 months ahead of their rivals, with a €31 million upfront payment set to rise to €45 million, and they were proved right.

Many fans see the 19-year-old star as Luka Modric's long-term successor at Real Madrid

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 different midfield roles.  He has the same levels of energy

He has the same capacity to play different midfield roles. He has the same levels of energy

They had been associated with Paul Pogba for years, but there were always reservations about the Manchester United midfielder and the astronomical sums involved in signing him. As soon as they saw Camvinga in Rennes as a 17-year-old, they were convinced that one day they could sign someone better than Pogba.

Pogba himself has commented on the huge potential: “He’s a little dancer. He reminds me a bit of myself, he said after Camavinga scored on his full-length debut in France in 2020. “He’s not a timid person; he is confident in his quality.’

It was against PSG, which had pulled him out last summer, that he had his first leading role.

The photo below is of Madrid supporters waiting for the team bus for PSG’s game. A fan wears Camavinga’s number 25 as he hangs from a lamppost to get a better look at the oncoming carriage.

Even before the first of three incredible European comebacks – he has a part in each – he has his own steady following among the club’s fans. That No 25 shirt would only get more and more appreciated as the season went on.

Camavinga's ball for Karim Benzema in the first of three late goals against Manchester City that brought Real Madrid into the Champions League final with Liverpool on Saturday

Camavinga’s ball for Karim Benzema in the first of three late goals against Manchester City that brought Real Madrid into the Champions League final with Liverpool on Saturday

Real Madrid saw the potential in Camavinga when they first saw him play when he was only 17 years old.  They thought he had the potential to be better than Paul Pogba.  from Manchester United

Real Madrid saw the potential in Camavinga when they first saw him play when he was only 17 years old. They thought he had the potential to be better than Paul Pogba. from Manchester United

Before the big Champions League evenings, there was a period of adjustment. 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 Modric’s blocked shot.

But in a recent L’Equipe interview, he admitted to being a little surprised by the incredibly high level in practice, joking that the speed of the passing exercises meant he was spending more time in the center behind 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 mid-November. Of his 13 starts in the league, only five were 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 who got 11 minutes of extra time in the semi-finals and nothing in the final.

Camavinga has become a fan favorite after proving his worth in the Real Madrid first team

Camavinga has become a fan favorite after proving his worth in the Real Madrid first team

Camavinga was surprised by the incredibly high level of training and joked that the speed of the passing practice meant he spent more time in the center behind the ball than he wanted

Camavinga was surprised by the incredibly high level of training and joked that the speed of the passing practice meant he spent more time in the center behind the ball than he wanted

There were rumors over the winter that clubs would want to take him on loan, but he never doubted that staying on track in his first season was the right choice.

Despite strong suggestions to the contrary, Liverpool were never one of January’s potential buyers. And even if it had, switching clubs wasn’t an option: he knew his time would come sooner rather than later.

Sure enough, when Carlo Ancelotti knocked out Toni Kroos 57 minutes into the second leg of Real Madrid’s last-16 game with PSG, Camavinga came on and helped to change Madrid’s equalizer and season.

They were eliminated and the Italian coach looked set to spoil the future of the club’s midfield as the tilt to the European top title slipped this season, but he played his part when Real Madrid came back and won 3-1 in the evening.

There would be more to come against Chelsea in the next round. Kroos was again the man to be replaced, this time showing the world how much the decision upset him. Chelsea were leading 2-0 that night and before Camavinga could even touch the ball, they scored again to take a 3-2 lead. But he inspired Madrid when they scored two more goals to continue.

Against Manchester City, there is a small change in the script: Camavinga comes on for Modric instead of Kroos with 15 minutes left and Real Madrid goes out again. He waves his wand with his left foot to deliver a pass over the top of the City defense to Karim Benzema, who then goes ahead of Rodrygo who scores the all-important first.

In the extra time, Camavinga leads to the winner. He bursts forward with the ball at his feet before knocking off Rodrgyo, who crosses to Benzema, who is knocked down for the penalty he then scores.

In this dramatic build-up to the Champions League and in his competitive performance, he has shown his adaptability to a variety of roles. It is not yet clear where he will eventually play. He has the acceleration and the last pass to play further forward, but he has also been used as a defensive midfielder who learns from the best.

Casemiro has told him the importance of not taking early cards in games. It was inevitable against Sevilla in a crucial game towards the end of the season and after the first half, Ancelotti’s caution took him away at half-time. But it wasn’t a reflection on how he had played, operating with all the authority of a veteran. If Madrid want him to replace the Brazilian, he can get the job done. Besides the holder as one of the midfielders, he is just as effective.

Camavinga is the third oldest of six siblings, born in a refugee camp in Angola where the family had fled because of the war in Congo. Camavinga has never had it easy.

He speaks eloquently of those early experiences and it is already clear that he will become a role model for young players from similar circumstances in the coming years.

He will be just a teenager in a Champions League final on Saturday. A 19-year-old with the world at his feet and some of football’s hardest to please fans has long since won.

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