This article is part of the Guardian’s World Cup 2014 Experts’ Network, a co-operation between 32 of the best media organisations from the countries who have qualified for the finals in Brazil. theguardian.com is running previews from four countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 12 June.
Born in Luanda, Angola, 22 years ago, William Carvalho is ready to conquer the World. He is, no question about it, Portugal’s next big thing. The confidence that the national coach, Paulo Bento, has in his regular starting XI can postpone the emergence of the rising star but, mark these words: it’s just a matter of time.
We haven’t seen such a talent blossom in Portugal for some time now. Once again, the former colonies in Africa provide a phenomenon to Portuguese football. Carvalho travelled to Portugal when he was just a few years old and, now, the country is ready to lose him. The top clubs of Europe are surrounding Sporting Lisbon’s defensive midfielder.
Carvalho comes from a family dedicated to football in Angola. His grandfather, Praia, and his uncle, Afonso, played for Progresso de Sambizanga. His father also tried out the sport and has been a fan of Sporting since he was young. This would be a determining factor in the future of the best talent of the Carvalho family.
After the move the Portugal, the little William started playing in the streets and eventually got to Recreios Desportivos de AlgueirÃ£o, his first club. The term little is figurative. He wasn’t little at all, and the midfielder soon got used to playing with boys with two of three years older than him.
In 2004, when Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal were hosting the European Championship (losing in the final to Greece), William Carvalho arrived at UniÃ£o Sport Clube de Mira Sintra and, even being the youngest of the team, was elected the captain.
‘He was always a very humble, quiet but mature boy. In Mira Sintra, he was two years younger than the others but he was made the captain and was a leader in the dressing room, solving problems between the boys from rival neighbourhoods, that would often start fights between themselves,’ recalled Bruno Rodrigues, his former coach at the club, in an interview to Maisfutebol.
Back then, Carvalho played as a No10 and loved Thierry Henry, becoming an Arsenal fan. Over the years, he started going back in midfield and you can see him as a mix between Yaya TourÃ© and the classical Patrick Vieira.
With a tremendous physique (now 1.87m in height, and 86kgs) and remarkable quality of ball control, the teenager was quickly spotted by the big clubs in the capital of Portugal and came to the point of saying no to Benfica.
Both William and his father are supporters of Sporting. When the youth coach of Benfica went to their house, in 2005, to present a contract, the boy turned away the chance. A big surprise coming from a guy that played for the modest Mira Sintra. But his favourite club was close and he took the opportunity.
The same club that discovered Cristiano Ronaldo was able to convince William Carvalho. Aurelio Pereira, a legend in the youth department of Sporting, spoke to the boy and asked him: ‘Which player do you like the most in Sporting?’ ‘Nani’, he answered.
One hour later, Nani called William Carvalho, not knowing who the boy was, and told him to sign for Sporting. And the boy did just that. The club played a reported â‚¬12,500 euros for the 14-year-old.
In 2007, the midfielder made his debut for Portugal’s under-16 side. He progressed in the youth teams of Sporting and had one appearance for the first team in April 2011. JosÃ© Couceiro gave a few minutes to the 18-year-old prospect in the game at Vitoria de GuimarÃ£es. But the road had some bumps up ahead.
In the following season, Sporting decided to loan Carvalho. He went to Fatima, played in the second division and didn’t make a big impact. The talent was there, nevertheless, and a call from Cercle Brugge – a Belgian club that has a link with Sporting – changed his future.
Playing in the Jupiler League, Carvalho developed as a player and settled into being a perfect 6 defensive midfielder. He had been progressing as a playmaker or an all-around midfielder but this was, as everyone soon discovered, his destiny.
By the time he returned to Sporting, William Carvalho was a man.
His name was never forgotten in Angola and the African country’s FA tried to change his path. That is an everlasting dispute between the former colonies and Portugal. Players are born in Luanda, Bissau or Praia but end up in Lisbon or Porto and often prefer to represent Portugal. Angola called up Carvalho but the player turned them away. At that time, he was an under-20 international for Portugal and the best was yet to come.
For the 2013-14 season the new Sporting coach, Leonardo Jardim, decided to incorporate the midfielder in the squad of Sporting and he broke into the first team. Secure, intelligent without the ball, capable of covering for his defence without making too many fouls and, more impressively, rarely losing possession.
Carvalho now has an all-round game, at just 22. In a couple of months, he convinced all the critics and even the fanatics of the other teams. No one doubts the talent of William Carvalho. Paulo Bento, nevertheless, took his time to call the midfielder for the senior national team. Too much time, in general opinion.
The first call-up arrived in November 2013, for the play-off against Sweden. Carvalho made his debut and proved that he is ready for the World Cup. Miguel Veloso is the starting defensive midfielder for Portugal and Bento is known for not changing his mind. Anyway, with such a talent in his hands, the coach has a nice headache for Brazil.
Carvalho provides an alternative for Portugal. In the toughest games, Bento can put away his usual 4-3-3 formation and implement a more conservative 4-4-2, sacrificing one winger to play with Carvalho and Veloso, plus Meireles and Moutinho in the midfield. Up front, Ronaldo plus one. For the opener against Germany, you might just see it. Time will tell. But as we have already said, that is the only question with William Carvalho: how much time it will take, because it is going to happen.
VÃtor Hugo Alvarenga is a journalist for Maisfutebol
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