It wasn’t the first time that necessity was the mother of invention, and it won’t be the last time that what was intended to be a temporary solution turned out to be more than a stroke of luck – and, in the not-too-distant future, may even be viewed as a stroke of brilliance.
Lucas Hernandez’s injury in France’s 2022 World Cup opener forced Eduardo Camavinga to start at left-back against Tunisia and Argentina.
Similarly, had Ferland Mendy and David Alaba not been unavailable for a Real Madrid La Liga match against Real Sociedad in late January of this year, it is unlikely Carlo Ancelotti would have imitated Didier Deschamps and deployed his 20-year-old midfielder in a position Camavinga knew very little about until six months prior – a position he performed so well in during the first leg of Real’s semi-final against Manchester City that a Madrid
In November, no one would have predicted this. Everyone at home was surprised by Deschamps’s decision. In a pre-tournament friendly against Al-Gharafa of Qatar, he fielded his young player at left-back. And he was delighted enough to do so again in France’s final group game against Tunisia. Even though France had already qualified for the last 16. It was not an unqualified success.
Tunisia won the match 1-0, and Deschamps was heavily criticized for his selection. Rolland Courbis, the former coach of Marseille, thundered on national radio, “Camavinga left-back?
Why not physiotherapy?” It was one thing to deploy Antoine Griezmann as a deep-lying regista. But quite another to ask a young player with four international caps. All as a central midfielder, to attempt a new position in the biggest tournament of them all. Camavinga played the final 49 minutes of the exciting contest on the left side of defence and fared well.
Camavinga’s transformation is remarkable because its two managers are not Pep Guardiola-like. During their tenure in Serie A, during the reign of Arrigo Sacchi, the league was associated with tactical refinement and a quasi-scientific approach, but not with experimentation for the sake of experimentation.
Both are pragmatists, excellent observers of game flow, and exceptional men’s leaders. They have knowledge, experience, and principles, but neither could be considered “system coaches” under any circumstances.
The transformation of Camavinga was not prompted by a desire to attempt something new, but rather by the gradual realization that this young footballer possessed qualities that could blossom into something very special if utilized in a different setting. Regardless of how counterintuitive the process appeared from the outside, it was organic nonetheless. The square peg was not forced into the round cavity. It is now a natural fit, an “invention” in the original sense, i.e., a discovery.
Wednesday’s game will be Camavinga’s 20th in which he operates from the left side of the defense. But what we’ve seen of him there suggests that he may – just possibly – establish a new standard for this position.
From Giacinto Fachetti to Manuel Amoros to Cafu in the past to Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold today, we’ve had a multitude of roving fullbacks who could double as auxiliary wingers. A number of our full-backs, including Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Joo Cancelo, John Stones, and Oleksandr Zinchenko, can “tuck in” and provide numerical superiority in the midfield, largely due to Guardiola and his erstwhile assistant Mikel Arteta.
What we have not had until now – until Camavinga – is a full-back capable of combining both of these dimensions into a singular, exciting package, one whose influence could, just as much as Vinicius Jnior’s or De Bruyne’s brilliance, determine the outcome of this semi-final.
When discussing a young footballer, it’s tempting to limit expectations to avoid exaggerating and stunting his development. It must be opposed. Camavinga possesses the required athleticism and endurance for the most physically demanding position in contemporary football.
He possesses the dexterity, natural speed, and dribbling skills of a winger. Importantly, he possesses the intelligence, passing range, and vision that stunned observers in 2019 when, at age 16, he orchestrated Rennes’s 2-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain.
Such an abundance of talent is not typically found in left-back players. However, Eduardo Camavinga is not your typical left-back.