Eduardo Camavinga was the star of the show in Rennes victory over PSG in the second game of their Ligue 1 season. A beautifully flighted ball found the head of Romain del Castillo who buried the ball into the PSG net, handing Camavinga an assist (the youngest player to record an assist in Ligue 1 since Opta began). He also made 41 passes with a 98% pass accuracy, completing 1/1 dribbles and winning 3/3 tackles.
The midfielder’s first team debut actually came at the end of last season when he was just 16 years and 4 months old- a 3-3 draw with Angers. With such an impressive performance at such a young age, I will assess whether this is a sign of things to come, or merely just a flash in the pan. Ligue 1 has had 19 other players since 2005 who have made their debut aged 16, here we will analyse their careers to understand better Camavinga’s chances of making it to the top. Three players (Pietro Pellegri, Willem Geubbels and Pedro Brazao) out of the 19 have made their debut in the last two seasons, therefore it will not be necessary or fair to analyse the success of their careers thus far.
Albert Rafetraniaina made his debut for Nice in 2012, aged just 16 and 27 days, he is the youngest ever debutant in Ligue since 2005. He has played just 27 Ligue 1 games in seven years, scoring an assisting no goals. He currently is playing for Nice’s B team aged 22.
Neal Maupay has had a rather better time. He also made his debut for Nice in 2012, a month before Rafetraniaina. The French striker scored nine goals in 53 games for Les Aiglons, before moving to Saint-Etienne where he scored three in 23. At Stade Brest he improved his game, managing to bag 11 goals in 30 games. A move to England soon followed. His spell at Brentford has been the most successful of his career to date. In 95 games the forward scored an impressive 41 goals and made 14 assists. By the end of the 2018/19 season Maupay won the ‘EFL Player of the Year’ award. Unsurprisingly, Premier League clubs were interested in the Frenchman. In August 2019 he moved to Brighton for £20m. Maupay managed to score on his debut in a win over Watford, still aged only 23.
Bilal Boutobba was handed a debut by the prestigious French club on the south coast, Marseille. He was aged just 16 and three months. After just three appearances though, the right winger has his contract terminated by Marseille. He soon joined Sevilla B, but that also ended unsuccessfully. In September last year he returned to Ligue 1 with Montpellier, but he has only made two appearances in the first team. Although he is still only 20, his career seems to have stagnated heavily in the last four years.
M’Baye Niang was relentlessly hyped up following his impressive performances for SM Caen. His first appearance came when he was 16 years and three months old, in April 2011. He scored an impressive five goals in 30 appearances for the French club, before AC Milan beat the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham to sign him for £3m. Despite making 67 appearances for the Rossonieri, he never truly settled and was shipped to Montpellier, Genoa, Watford, Torino and Rennes on loan. He signed for Rennes permanently this summer and was on the score sheet in the 2-1 win over PSG.
Newcastle’s new signing, Allan Saint Maximin made his debut in Ligue 1 aged 16 and five months for Saint Etienne in September 2013. The tricky winger went on to make 12 appearances for the Loire based club, then moving to Monaco. Relatively ineffective loans spells at Hanover and Bastia were followed by a two-year stint at Nice. Here, the Frenchman bagged eleven goals and 14 assists in 67 games. These performances led to Newcastle purchasing Saint Maximin this summer for around £20m.
The Luxembourgish midfielder Vincent Thill debutised for FC Metz in 2016 at the age of 16 years and seven months. Despite still being only 19, Thill has failed to make an impact in Ligue 1. He has been loaned out to Pau and Orleans, with the latter taking him on loan this season in Ligue 2. Still, he has been capped 23 times at international level, scoring three goals for Luxembourg. A mean feat, considering his young age.
Jeremie Porsan Clemente at one stage held the record for Marseille’s youngest player, making his debut in August 2014 at 16 years and eight months. This record has since been broken by Boutobba. Clemente’s career since has resulted in unsuccessful moves around France. He failed to make an impact at Marseille, so he moved to Montpellier on a free transfer. After just one senior appearance he moved on another free transfer to Saint Etienne this summer. He is yet to make an appearance for Les Verts.
Kingsley Coman made his PSG debut aged 16 years and eight months. He has since gone on to join Juventus and then Bayern Munich, in a career that has already been synonymous with countless trophies. Despite only making three senior appearances for PSG, Italian giants, Juventus signed the French winger on a free transfer when he was 18. He spent a year at Juventus, before joining the famous Bavarian club, Bayern Munich. He eventually joined the club permanently in 2017 for €21 million. His spell in Germany has been successful, he is now an established starter in the team after making 86 Bundesliga appearances. Coman also has 16 caps and one goal for France.
Alban Lafont holds the record for the youngest goalkeeper to play in Ligue 1 in November 2015, aged 16 years and 310 days. When Lafont came into the Toulouse team, the club were 10 points adrift of safety, but by the end of the season Toulouse managed to stay in Ligue 1. In part, due to Lafont’s eight clean sheets in 24 appearances. In July 2018, Lafont signed for Fiorientina for €7 million. Despite making 38 appearances, his performances were defined by inconsistency. He joined Nantes on loan this season.
Another goalkeeper, Anthony Mandrea also made his debut at 16 and 10 months. He played for Nice against Bordeaux in 2013. He hasn’t reached the same level as Lafont, however. Mandrea only made one appearance for Nice. He moved to Angers in 2016 and has not yet featured in their first team.
Arguably the most famous player on the list, Eden Hazard made his debut for Lille in 2007 at 16 years and 10 months. He went on to make 147 appearances for Lille, scoring 36 and assisting 41 goals. Hazard was instrumental in Lille’s league and cup double, and as a result he was awarded the Ligue 1 Player of the Year, the youngest player to win the award. Chelsea signed Hazard in June 2012. Since then he has gone on to win Premier League titles, Europa Leagues, the League Cup and the FA Cup. In 245 Premier League appearances he was involved (scored/assisted) 146 goals. This summer, Hazard signed for Real Madrid for €100 million.
Another 16 year-old Ligue 1 player who has played for Chelsea is Kurt Zouma. Zouma made his debut for Saint-Etienne in September 2011, at 16 years and 10 months. In three years at the French club he made 51 appearances in Ligue 1, before a move to Chelsea. He was sent back on loan to Saint-Etienne for a season before returning to the London-based club. But in three seasons at Chelsea the French centre-back failed to secure a first team place. In 2017 he moved to Stoke on loan. A year later he went on loan to Everton. Now he finds himself back in Chelsea’s first team plans following from their transfer embargo. He has also accumulated five French caps.
Another striker, Paulin Puel made his debut at 16 years and 11 months. He made his debut for Nice in April 2014, and went on to make 14 appearances for the club, scoring zero goals. Interestingly, Puel’s father, Claude, was manager of Nice at the time- perhaps part of the reason why Puel featured so often. Since Claude Puel has left the club, the striker has moved to Monaco B and then Avranches in the Championnat National (French third tier). He scored three goals in 16 games for the club.
Mbappe’s record for the youngest Monaco player was bettered by Pietro Pellegri. However, it is the former who has broken more records of late. Mbappe made his debut for the club aged 16 years 11 months and 12 days in a 1-1 draw with Caen. In 60 appearances for Monaco, Mbappe scored 62 goals and assisted 33, playing a big role in propelling the club to the Champions League semi-finals in 2017, and the club winning Ligue 1. He joined PSG in the summer of 2017 on loan. He has since made 91 appearances for the Parisian club, where he has scored 62 goals, and set up a further 33. Mbappe also helped France to win the World Cup in 2018. He scored in the group stage against Peru, before scoring twice against Argentina in the quarter-finals, and then again in the final as France beat Croatia 4-2. He finished the tournament with four goals, winning the FIFA World Cup Best Young Player Award.
The final player on the list is Serge Aurier. The Ivorian right-back made his debut for Lens aged 16 years 11 months and 28 days, in December 2009. He made 40 appearances for Lens, before joining Toulouse in 2012, where he made a further 72 appearances, scoring eight goals. In 2014 he joined PSG, where he would spend three years. During his time in France, Aurier would be twice named in the competition’s Team of the Year. In 2017 he joined Tottenham for £23 million, he has since made 25 appearances for the London club.
Ultimately, there is no clear correlation for 16 year-old debutants in France and success. What can be said though is that 14% of the players turn out to be world class (Mbappe,Hazard) and 35% turn out to be either world class or good players (Coman, Zouma, Lafont). Despite this, the largest proportion of players I believe have stagnated and are now either playing semi-professional football or in the lower French divisions. Still, there is hope that Camavinga can live up to his potential and at least become a good player.