The Portuguese Primeira Liga has a well-earned reputation for finding and developing top young footballing talent. The Três Grandes in particular (the three big Portuguese clubs – SL Benfica, FC Porto, and Sporting CP) have an incredible track record for bringing through young footballers from Portugal and abroad (notably South America) and turning them into big-league-ready superstars in waiting.
The latest Portuguese talent attracting interest from some of the biggest clubs in European football is Sporting CP defensive midfielder William Carvalho. British newspapers have further stoked transfer rumours in the last week, linking Manchester United with a £37 million move for the 21 year old. Carvalho has a release-clause in his long-term contract set at €45 million (the £37 million fee often quoted in the British media), and while a deal is unlikely to have been made outside of the transfer window, Manchester United and Arsenal have been scouting Carvalho for some time. Still, you don’t come to Proven Quality for transfer rumours, so here’s our scout report.
Carvalho, or to give him his full name, William Silva de Carvalho, was born in Angola and spent his youth career at Algueirão and Mira Sintra, both small clubs in the region surrounding Lisbon, before joining up with the prestigious Academia Sporting in 2005, at the age of 13.
Carvalho made his début for Sporting in April 2011, before being sent out on loan to Portuguese third division outfit C.D. Fátima at the start of the 2011-2012 season. Carvalho made 13 appearances for Fátima, scoring three goals in a sixth month spell. Carvalho’s excellent performances for Fátima led to a further loan move to Cercle Bruges KSV in January 2012.
Carvalho made an immediate impression at Cercle Bruges and was again loaned to the Belgium Pro League side for the 2012-2013 season. During his youth career, Carvalho was called up to Portugal national team at Under 19 and Under 21 levels. Carvalho made a name for himself in Belgium as an excellent young player, making 51 appearances and scoring 3 goals for Bruges.
Carvalho’s return to Lisbon
Thanks to his performances at Bruges, at the end of the 2012-2013 season Carvalho returned to parent club Sporting CP. Under the supervision of new Sporting manager Leonardo Jardim, Carvalho spent the summer pre-season training with the Sporting first team, where he was seen as the promising under study to Argentinian defensive midfielder Fabián Rinaudo. However, thanks to Carvalho’s progression in training and positive performances in pre-season friendly matches, Carvalho earned himself a place in the Sporting starting 11 at the start of the season. Ousted by Carvalho, Rinaudo was loaned out to Catania in January 2014.
Unfazed by his step up to the Sporting first team, William Carvalho quickly established himself as a crucial part of the Lisbon team that is currently sitting in second place in the Portuguese Liga, and was voted the best young player of the month in August and September 2013. On October 27 2013, Carvalho scored his first senior goal for Sporting in a 3-1 away defeat at Porto, looking the best Sporting player in a tricky away tie.
Carvalho’s performances for Sporting earned him a call up from Portugal manager Paulo Bento for Portugal’s World Cup play-offs against Sweden, and Carvalho came on to make his Portugal debut in the 73rd minute of the second match. Portugal were losing 2-1 at the time, but a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo in a 3-2 win sealed World Cup qualification for Portugal.
Meanwhile, Carvalho continued his star performances for Sporting, and was named player of the month in Portugal in October, November and December 2013.
On the 5th of March 2014, Carvalho made his first start for Portugal in a 5-1 friendly win over Cameroon, putting in a top performance before being substituted in the 76th minute.
Carvalho’s playing style and strengths
Standing 1.87 m (6 ft 1 1⁄2 in) tall, William Carvalho presents a commanding physical presence, but also matches this with a good technical level. Carvalho has been deployed by both Sporting and Portugal as a lone defensive midfielder, where his excellent positioning and reading of the game often see him well placed to make crucial interceptions.
Carvalho also has a decent first touch and a good burst of pace; he will nick the ball and look to turn and cruise past his opponent, and his passing is solid without being over-extravagant. You rarely seem him lose the ball, even under pressure from opposition players he uses his strength to shield the ball well.
If Carvalho continues his form and can keep himself fit, he looks sure to be in the Portugal squad for the World Cup in Brazil, and will be one of the young stars to keep a close eye on at the tournament.