By Brian Homewood
PORTO, Portugal (Reuters) – Portugal midfielder William Carvalho is not the most eye-catching of players and does not grab the headlines like team mate Cristiano Ronaldo but many feel he is one of the main reasons his side have become so successful.
Although sometimes he looks ponderous and his passing can be predictable, the Angola-born player possesses a combination of strength and technique that makes him ideal for his defensive midfield role — one of the most important in a modern team.
“He is an absolute powerhouse but has got the feet of a ballet dancer,” said BBC analyst Chris Sutton after watching Carvalho’s performance in Portugal’s 3-1 Nations League semi-final win over Switzerland on Wednesday.
Unflappable even in the tightest of corners, Carvalho, who turned down an offer to join Benfica’s academy at 13 because he had set his sights on playing for their rivals Sporting, is a master in the art of keeping it simple.
His anticipation is outstanding, allowing him to intercept passes, break up moves and win tackles with apparently little effort. Once in possession, he will invariably play the simple pass, rather than trying to thread a killer ball through the back line, but it gets his team moving forward.
It looks easy yet few players in international football perform the job as effectively.
Carvalho has never looked back since he was thrown on late to make his debut in a World Cup qualifying playoff away to Sweden in 2013.
The Swedes had just scored two quick goals to lead 2-1 on the night and level the aggregate score at 2-2. Unruffled, Carvalho quickly settled and Portugal scored twice to win 3-2 and qualify for the World Cup.
He has now earned 56 caps and is one of seven so-called untouchables who have been selected for the four tournaments Portugal have played in the last four years – Euro 2016, the Confederations Cup (2017), the World Cup (2018) and this year’s Nations League, where they face Netherlands in Sunday’s final.
Yet, his qualities are not always appreciated. Whenever Carvalho got the ball in Wednesday’s match, an air of impatience could be sensed amongst the crowd at the Estadio do Dragao.
A lifelong Sporting fan, one of the few regrets in his career was the incident which prompted him to leave the club last year and join Real Betis.
Carvalho was one of several players to depart after hooded Sporting fans invaded the club’s training ground and destroyed the dressing room.
“It wasn’t an easy situation and I didn’t leave the way I wanted,” he said. “But I am a Sporting fan and will continue to be. It’s always been my club.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris)