If a country’s stature in world football is to be judged purely on its individual talents, Portugal will probably be ranked among the very best. However, the European side has, more often than not, only flattered to deceive in World Cup finals— a third-place finish in 1966 is its best performance yet.
In this World Cup, all eyes will be on their talismanic forward and FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. However, with Ronaldo suffering from tendinitis, which he contracted in the latter half of the season, a young footballer of Angolan descent has slowly, but surely, caught the imagination of football lovers not only in Portugal, but across Europe.
William Calvarho, 22, has played only 20 minutes of international football so far, but has already managed to attract eyeballs. Top European clubs like Real Madrid, Arsenal, Manchester United and Barcelona are looking to woo him. So what’s special about this midfielder? He was in crackling form for Sporting Lisbon last season, playing in 29 league matches for his club and made his international debut for Portugal in their World Cup qualifiers against Sweden.
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His coaches value him for his ability to soak pressure and see him as a future leader. “He was a humble, quiet and a mature boy. In Mira Sintra, he was two years younger than others, but was made the captain and was a leader in the dressing room, solving problems between boys from rival neighbourhoods, that would often indulge in fights,” recalled Bruno Rodrigues, his former coach at the club.
His former team-mate at Sporting Lisbon, Diego Capel says: “There’s no limit for him. People will talk about him a lot in the future.”
A Thierry Henry fan, Carvalho hails from a sporting family in Angola. His father, grandfather and uncle have all been football players, enjoying varying degrees of success playing club football in Africa.
Carvalho was raised in Mira Sintra — a bustling Lisbon suburb. As a teenager, he turned down an offer to join Benfica and opted for rivals Sporting Lisbon instead.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento will hope he plays a vital role in the tournament, especially if Ronaldo’s injury flares up and he has to be used sparringly.
For the opener against Germany, Bento could do away with his usual 4-3-3 format and could implement a 4-4-2 approach, sacrificing a winger to add Carvalho to a midfield featuring Meireles and Moutinho plus one more and using Ronaldo upfront.