On a manicured lawn in front of the main entrance to Real Madrid’s huge training complex on the outskirts of the Spanish capital, Eduardo Camavinga is posing for photographs.
The mountain air from the nearby snow-capped Sierra Guadarrama is rich, the sun is shining, and there is a calming silence – this is a footballer’s paradise, as far from where it all began for the 20-year-old as is possible to imagine.
‘I wasn’t even two-years-old. I don’t remember anything about it,’ he says of spending the first months of his life in a refugee camp in Angola until his parents Celestino and Sofia took him and his siblings to France.
‘We haven’t talked that much about it. I only know that things were difficult in Angola because of the war and that my family came to France to make a better life. I’ve seen pictures of when we arrived to France and I’m still a baby.’
Last May, Celestino and Sofia were at the Champions League final to see their son win the tournament in his first season at Real Madrid. ‘Football is my life,’ he says of the way his talent has transformed his fortunes and those of the people around him.
The midfielder was one of the most highly-sought after teenagers before his move to Spain
In his first season with Real Madrid Eduardo Camavinga showed his insatiable talent
He achieved a dream by winning European club football’s biggest prize last spring in Paris
He was a late substitute in the 1-0 win over Liverpool at the Stade de France but his role on the road to the final had been huge.
When he was off the pitch during the second-legs against Paris Saint Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City the aggregate score was 4-0 to Madrid’s rival; when he was on the pitch, the balance was 8-1 in Madrid’s favour.
‘Those numbers are good but it’s just a statistic,’ he smiles. ‘When the manager puts me on he tells me to get on the ball and energise the team.’
He certainly did that in the semi-final against Manchester City, with Madrid’s famous midfield three of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric all off the pitch.
It was Camavinga’s driving run on 92 minutes that leads to the penalty won and scored by Karim Benzema to put Madrid in the final.
‘I saw the City game on television afterwards and it’s 99 per cent certain Manchester City will go through and just one per cent that we could go through. But Madrid is never dead no matter what the probabilities are.
‘People wrote us off, but here you learn to play until the final whistle and we ended up winning the final. What happened last season will stay with me for the rest of my life.’
He enjoyed the thrilling run to the final like any teenager feeling on top of the world. ‘There’s a party in the dressing room, Karim puts the music on, lots of different types of music – it’s time to celebrate,’ he says of the atmosphere after the three remarkable comebacks.
‘I can usually sleep well after games but it was a little bit more difficult after these matches because there was so much emotion. I left the stadium a lot later than usual. But you have to sleep because there are so many more games still to play.’
After the final he says he even enjoyed the obligatory Town Hall meet-and-greets that the more seasoned winners could be forgiven for finding tiresome. ‘I was asking Karim: “okay so what do we do now? Where do we go now?” he says.
His ability at Rennes ensured he became one of the club’s most talented ever prospects
There is a changing of the guard in Madrid’s midfield with Casemiro now at Manchester United and Kroos and Modric in the last season of their contracts.
Camavinga will be his own player but there is no harm in him aspiring to emulate the other three. ‘I love the way ‘Case’ defends, the way Luka runs with the ball, and the quality of Toni’s passes,’ he says.
He also welcomes the added competition Jude Bellingham would bring if this summer he picks Madrid over Liverpool or Manchester City.
‘It’s normal that the best players come to Madrid. Competition is good. It’s there now and it will always be there and I know I have to prove myself on the pitch every time I play.’
He first proved himself as a dynamic seven-year-old in a tournament for his ‘La Chatière’ school in Fougères, northern France.
‘Zidane was my idol – he was all our idols! And I did the famous ‘roulette’ I’d seen on a Zidane skills YouTube video. My teacher Fatima urged my mother to get me in a team.
Despite being keener on Judo because it was his brother’s favourite sport, Eduardo’s parents enrolled him into local side Drapeau de Fougères where he shone until Rennes signed him aged 11. He was in their first team aged 16, and aged 19 Madrid had paid 40m euros for him.
‘My father told me that I was the person who was going to lift the family up. And I’m really happy to have been able to do that. They’re proud of me,’ he says.
He credits them for most things, even his incredible energy levels late in games. ‘It’s a mental thing,’ he says. ‘And it’s thanks to my father – hearing his voice saying that the tiredness is just in the mind!’
He used to go to watch his father play amateur football in Fougeres. Dad and mum are his toughest critics. ‘If my father thinks I have had a bad game then he is going to tell me everything that he thinks about it! And on more than one occasion I have not had a good game and thought my mother would say: don’t worry, it’s normal, you can’t always play well. But then she gives me the look, and I think: oh dear.
‘But it’s good that they both tell me the truth because it’s the way I am going to get better. I don’t like it at the time. At first I’m angry but then all my anger comes out on the pitch in a positive way.’
Real Madrid claimed their 14th Champions League crown last season – Camavinga’s maiden title
The midfielder has been forced to be patient at times and wait for opportunities
His combativeness and energy on the pitch stems from his family and the motivation they provide him – as well as keeping him grounded
They help him stay grounded too. When asked if his family’s early struggles make him recoil at some of the over-indulgences of other players he says: ‘If you have money you can do whatever you want with it. You can buy five cars and be a fantastic person. I wouldn’t go that way. I have my father close by me and if I buy too many things he is going to kill me!’
He says he will visit Anglola this year if it’s possible to do so. And he speaks out on the racism that still blights Spanish football.
‘We all have to talk about it and isolate the idiot who doesn’t like someone just because of they have a different colour skin, it will progress,’ he says.
You wonder if he took a moment last May in the Champions League final to consider the incredible journey he had been on. Then you remember his age and how, the future is so bright there is little need to think about the past.
‘I live life as it happens,’ he says. ‘I just enjoyed the moment. I’ll think about it a lot more when I’m older, I’m sure. It was my first year here and I had won the Champions League. But rather than reflect, I just want to win another one.’
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