From refugee to Galactico – the story of Eduardo Camavinga’s transfer to Real Madrid

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“Remember the name” tweeted BT Sport after witnessing Eduardo Camavinga’s sublime assist for Romain Del Castillo in August 2019.

It was immediately clear that we had all witnessed the birth of a new star as 16-year-old Camavinga bossed the game against star-studded Paris Saint-Germain, with the teenager winning the official Ligue 1 man of the match award, and, perhaps even greater an achievement – getting an 8/10 player rating from the notoriously difficult-to-please French sports paper L’Equipe.

Camavinga’s breakthrough performance certainly caught the eye of football fans all over Europe that day, but sources close to his deal with Real Madrid this summer inform CaughtOffside that he’s been on the Spanish giants’ radar for a long time.

They’re not the only ones – Manchester United were also very interested in the France international this summer, as were the team he announced himself against that day early on in the 2019/20 season, PSG.

High-up figures at Madrid, however, consider Camavinga to be the best player in the world in his age bracket, and had held informal back and forth talks with his representatives for some time, CaughtOffside has been told.

Ultimately that was the difference for Camavinga himself; as well as dreaming of playing for Real himself, it was the strength of their interest that convinced the player to opt for the Bernabeu instead of accepting alternative offers, including the possibility of renewing his deal with Rennes.

Having joined their academy at the age of 11, Camavinga undoubtedly had strong feeling towards Rennes, who showed their faith in him by making him their youngest ever professional, and later the youngest player ever to start a game for the club. Not bad for a player born in a refugee camp who made becoming a footballer his dream. By the age where so many of us still don’t know what we’re doing with our lives, Camavinga has already achieved more than most thanks to the faith shown in him by Rennes.

At no point did Camavinga or his representatives look to force a move, with sources close to the deal informing CaughtOffside that there was an openness to listen to Rennes’ offer of a new contract, with the plan being that they would then sell him for anything between £80-100million in a year or two.

How Real Madrid won the race for Camavinga

Eduardo Camavinga joined Real Madrid from Rennes this summer

Real Madrid’s financial difficulties are well documented, with La Liga clubs seeming to particularly suffer during the Covid-19 pandemic, but Los Blancos were determined to do whatever it took to get Camavinga in.

Knowing that the player himself was also leaning towards a switch to the Spanish capital, a deal was fairly straightforward once Real had concluded the sales of Martin Odegaard to Arsenal and Raphael Varane to Manchester United, while getting Sergio Ramos off their wage bill also helped free up funds.

By that point, CaughtOffside understands that interest from United or PSG was not viewed as being particularly “serious” in comparison to Madrid; the Red Devils also needed to make sales before being able to fund this deal, but never seemed quite as decisive when it came to shifting the likes of Jesse Lingard or Diogo Dalot.

PSG, meanwhile, also seemed to be working within financial constraints to an extent, which sounds strange after a window in which they brought in Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Georginio Wijnaldum, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Nuno Mendes and Danilo Pereira. Four of those were free transfers, however, while Mendes joined on an initial loan, and Pereira’s loan move was made permanent after triggering a deal that was already in place.

The signing of Wijnaldum, in particular, would likely have meant difficulty in fitting Camavinga in, while Ed from PSG Talk believes the club might also be lining up another free agent in the near future in the form of Paul Pogba.

“Eduardo Camavinga is a player that was definitely on Paris Saint-Germain’s radar and I think I speak for all supporters when I say we were disappointed to see him leave Rennes for Real Madrid,” Ed tells CaughtOffside. “The transfer fee Madrid paid for Camavinga, reported as high as €45million with incentives, is affordable for a club with the financial means of PSG, and the 18-year-old was rumoured to want to go to PSG.”

So what went wrong? “If you ask me,” says Ed. “There were two things working against PSG. First of all, the club didn’t sell nearly as many players as they hoped to this summer. I think that’s why we saw PSG make so many “free” transfers. I also think Leonardo, PSG’s sporting director, and club president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, saw the left-back position as a bigger priority heading into this season than a midfielder, even one as talented as Camavinga. So, on deadline day, PSG targeted Nuno Mendes and eventually reached a loan deal with Sporting with an option to buy of €40million.

Eduardo Camavinga in action for Real Madrid

“PSG could also be playing the long game here. Perhaps they let Camavinga go to Real Madrid because the midfielder they covet all along is Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, who will be available on a free transfer next summer. PSG loves stars and while Camavinga has the potential to reach that level, Pogba is already there.”

Ask anyone from Real Madrid, and they’ll tell you Camavinga is already there too. The Frenchman already has his first goal for the club and looks the perfect heir to ageing midfield maestro Luka Modric.

In many ways, this move from Madrid is a change in direction from their ‘Galacticos’ policy of the past. PSG’s financial strength has seen them land a long list of the game’s biggest names in recent times, at a cost to Spanish football as they’ve had to watch the likes of Neymar and Messi leave.

Being forced to change, however, is not always a bad thing. Real might well have taken a look at the model of someone like Borussia Dortmund, who seem to have a habit of finding the world’s best talent a year or two before the so-called super clubs would really consider them. Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic are among those to seal big moves away from the Bundesliga side in recent years, and Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham are sure to follow.

Madrid is not Dortmund, and won’t have signed someone like Camavinga with the view to selling him for a profit later on. PSG may have won a fair few battles in the last few transfer windows, but Real will hope to eventually win the war with the signing of this generational talent who can light up the Bernabeu for the next decade or more.

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