Tom Kundert reports on the Portuguese powerhouse currently being linked with Manchester United...
The 60-second story
From relative obscurity to the hottest property in Portugal. That is the story of William Carvalho’s ascension in 2013/14. Sporting finished an unprecedented seventh place in Portugal’s Primeira Liga last season, their worst-ever position. A new president, a new coach and a squad overhaul has brought about a revival. But the rock upon which the team’s renaissance has been built is the Angolan-born six footer known simply as William in Portugal.
After an 18-month loan at Belgian club Cercle Brugge, William was given a starting berth in Sporting's first match of the season. Given what has happened since, it is barely believable to remember that his inclusion at the time was a surprise. William has been exceptional all season long.
Weighing in at 14 stone, he's an imposing presence on the pitch, but not only because of his physical stature. He has completely bossed midfield on countless occasions, anticipating play, intercepting and dispossessing opponents, and always being in the right place at the right time. In short, he executes the holding midfielder’s role with a mastery that belies his 21 years. Little wonder that not a day passes without speculation that one of Europe’s major clubs is primed to make a big-money bid for him.
- Name: William Carvalho
- Age: 22
- Position: Central midfield
- Club: Sporting
- Nacionality: Portuguese
Why you need to know him
Unusually for a young player, the bigger the match, the better he performs. A perfect example of William’s apparent immunity to pressure came in the second leg of Portugal’s World Cup play-off against Sweden in Stockholm. The hosts had just levelled the tie on aggregate after two quickfire Zlatan Ibrahimovic goals, and Portugal were wobbling alarmingly. Coach Paulo Bento called the Sporting midfielder off the bench.
It was his senior international debut. The nerveless William proceeded to show ice-cool composure and immediately put a halt to Sweden’s attacking momentum. Cristiano Ronaldo took the plaudits as two more goals completed a brilliant hat-trick, but without William’s introduction it is very possible Portugal would not have made it to Brazil this summer.
Perfect positioning, reading of the game, strength in the challenge, controlled aggression and composure are all qualities William has exuded. But perhaps most impressive of all is his ability to learn - and learn fast. He has improved visibly game by game. He was putting in very good performances at the start of the season, excellent ones by Christmas, and has been simply outstanding over recent months.
His passing is occasionally loose and when distributing the ball he tends to 'play it safe' rather than look for a more incisive through ball. However, on both counts he is visibly improving with match experience and training.
Manuel José, former Benfica and Sporting coach, and multiple African Champions League winning manager of Al Ahly: “William Carvalho has shown far greater ability at his age than Fernando (Reges) did as a 21-year-old.”
The highly respected veteran coach was referring to FC Porto’s Fernando, widely considered the best holding midfielder in Portugal over the past five years. Ironically, as the Brazilian Fernando at last becomes eligible to represent the Seleção, William’s emergence seems set to block the Porto man’s hopes of getting a Portugal call-up.
Did you know
As a 13-year-old William already stood out, starring at under-15 level football. So much so that Benfica dispatched official representatives to his home in Mira Sintra, on the outskirts of Lisbon, to sign him up at that tender age. They were astonished when he said no. William has been a Sporting supporter all his life and was set on playing for Benfica’s city rivals.
What happens next?
He has a €45 million release clause in his contract. Even at that price, Sporting are loathe to sell him. Reports suggest the club are preparing a massive hike in his wages to keep him at the Alvalade for one more season. It may depend on whether or not the Lions guarantee direct entrance to the group stages of next season’s Champions League by finishing in the top two. Manchester United have been scouting him all season, but should he become available the English giants will face stiff competition for his signature. Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid have also been linked.
Shooting 7 • Heading 7 • Passing 6 • Tackling 8 • Pace 8 • Dribbling 6 • Creativity 6 • Work-rate 9 • Positioning 10