It was the first time I had seen a player like this.
Jo Burel could perhaps have been forgiven had he thought he had seen it all.
The veteran has now worked as a football coach for nearly half a century. But it was when he first saw a serious-looking nine-year-old kid at local club AGL-Drapeau Fougères that he was taken aback. More than ever before.
A boy called Eduardo Camavinga was quick, agile and skillful on the ball as well as versatile, according to the careful eye of the experienced talent-spotter.
ALWAYS ON TIME
The player had already lived in Fougères – a town of around 20 thousands inhabitants in Brittany, northwestern France – for around two years having arrived in Europe with his family from Angola, where Eduardo was born.
His parents, Celestino and Sofia, had initially moved with their children to Lille before heading west.
“He [Eduardo] was doing judo“, revealed Nicolas Martinais, a close friend of the Camavinga family. “He would have never had to play football, he didn’t want to. It was his mother who registered him [to a football club] because they were living in an area of the town which was close to the stadium and because he was breaking everything in the house while playing football.“
Eduardo, the third of his parents’ six children, joined Drapeau de Fougères aged six in 2009. Two seasons later, he became AGL-Drapeau’s player – following a merger between the two local clubs.
“[He was] a serious kid, always on time for training, a little shy and one who didn’t talk a lot“, remembers Burel.
It was never all plain sailing for the Camavingas though. Not even in Fougères.
At one point, the family lost everything when their house was destroyed by a fire.
Thankfully, both the club and the local community lent Eduardo and his family a helping hand by collecting clothes (according to AGL-Drapeau’s sporting director, Pascal Guérin) and finally enabling the Camavingas to get back to their feet.
This was also when Celestino made some kind of a prophecy.
“The dad took his boy aside and told him: ‘Eduardo, you are the hope of the family. It’s yourself who will lift it'”, Martinais recalled.
On the pitch, such was Eduardo’s progress that as an under-11 the left-footer was already playing – and staring – for under-13s.
“When we wanted to protect the result, we put him in defence and when we wanted to win the game, we put him in attack. He possessed ‘extranatural’ qualities“, Burel reveled.
No wonder Camavinga was soon spotted by a scout from Stade Rennais – less than an hour away from Fougères – and as an 11-year-old swiftly followed in the footsteps of Fabien Lemoine (Fougères-born ex-Rennes senior player) to join a professional academy.
Fast forward just another six years.
In 2019, Eduardo Camavinga became the first player born in 2002 to start a game in one of Europe’s top five leagues. This season, he is a regular in centre midfield for Rennes having also made his debut for France under-21s – just days after obtaining French citizenship (his third – along with Congolese and Angolan). Real Madrid reportedly consider paying 100 million euros to bring the young star to the Bernabéu.
He is expected to start for his current team against Olympique Marseille on Friday evening.
And just over a year ago, he became the youngest-ever player to sign a professional contract with Stade Rennais.
And guess who was invited to participate in the event.
The veteran Burel definitely hadn’t seen it all.
In the picture: Eduardo Camavinga surrounded by his teammates at Fougères, winners of an U-11 tournament in Saint-Malo (found here)