AnalysisVersatile, hard-working, 'fiercely ambitious' - the lowdown on Fabio Carvalho
For an indication of how Fabio Carvalho might fare as a Liverpool player after his official unveiling on July 3, perhaps the most interesting evidence to consider is how he reacted when he didn't become one back on January 31.
As a 19-year-old who had been on the cusp of joining the Reds, only for the move to be shelved shortly before the January window closed, it perhaps would have been understandable if Carvalho had briefly lost a little of the focus that had helped him play an inspired part in Fulham’s charge towards the Championship title up to that point.
Just five days later, however, he was sneaking in between John Stones and Kyle Walker to stun Manchester City with the opening goal four minutes into an Emirates FA Cup tie at Etihad Stadium.
Although City rallied to win 4-1, the performance of Fulham’s No.28 was widely acknowledged as outstanding, and three days after that the ‘electrifying teen’ was described as ‘engrossed in the moment and refusing to dwell on what might’ve been’ by independent fan site Fulhamish after laying on the final goal in a 3-0 rout of Millwall - the sixth game in a row where Carvalho had either scored, assisted or both.
Intriguingly, the forward was producing the hottest streak of his fledgling career at a time when the pressure and gossip around him was at its zenith.
“That says everything about him, to be honest,” observes journalist Peter Rutzler.
“Even though that deal collapsed, you could forgive a player for then not giving 1,000 per cent because you don’t want to risk an opportunity by picking up an injury, but that was never the case with Fabio.
“It’s a reflection of his character and mental fortitude, because there was so much speculation about him not just during January, but before and after too. If you look at that period before deadline day, Fulham scored seven, six and six [against Reading, Bristol City and Birmingham City], and this is at the height of the speculation, and of course they went to the Etihad just a few days after deadline day and he was superb - scoring early on, revelling in the space, revelling in the contest against big-name players.
“Not for the first time in his career, he was put onto a bigger stage and instantly rose to the occasion.”
Watch Carvalho's first LFC interview
As Fulham correspondent for The Athletic, Rutzler had one of the most entertaining gigs in football journalism last season, watching the Cottagers score an incredible 106 goals and get the better of AFC Bournemouth by two points in the Championship title race.
Carvalho’s 18 goal involvements in 36 appearances were a striking return for a teenager who had played just 250 minutes of senior league football before the 2021-22 campaign started.
Then again, he has never been one to hang around.
Born in Lisbon, Carvalho moved to London with his family at the age of 11 and signed for Fulham two years later after making waves with south London youth side Balham Blazers. Aged 15, he bagged a hat-trick on his debut for the Whites’ U18s. Aged 18, he made his first Premier League start for a Fulham team that had already been relegated with three matches to spare and promptly smashed a stunning finish in off the crossbar against Southampton.
Even so, with new manager Marco Silva in place and pressure mounting to secure an immediate return to the top flight, there was no guarantee that Carvalho would be one of the first names on the teamsheet in a notoriously physical division that can be an unforgiving environment for playmakers. That he took to it like a duck to water was partly due to one characteristic that would appear to make him a perfect fit for Jürgen Klopp’s style.
“One of the things that has always been mentioned since his younger years is his work-rate,” explains Rutzler.
“He was kicked every week in the Championship, he’s so quick and nimble and can drift past players with such ease, so the only way to stop him was to kick him. It’s a very difficult division to be his type of player in, but he was able to not only ride the tackles but also fight back a little bit.
“He would press high and be dogged without the ball, and he would always make these huge recovery runs to dispossess opponents.”
Harvey Elliott’s humility and eagerness to learn have been repeatedly commented upon by Liverpool coaches and players alike since he made the same move from Craven Cottage to Anfield three years ago.
And it’s a mature temperament that his friend and reunited teammate Carvalho appears to share, allowing the one-time Benfica trainee to negotiate what could have been a tricky tightrope in the second half of the season with such aplomb that the visiting fans chanted his name after his last appearance, a 4-0 loss away to Sheffield United.
“These things are often said about young players, that they’re humble and whatever, but it is genuinely the case with him,” says Rutzler. “The fact he was excellent through that difficult period is just a reflection of who he is, but it also shows his love for Fulham.
“The relationship he built up with the Fulham supporters, despite all the noise and despite the fact he’s now left, is testament to his attitude and his personality. When he did his farewell interview, you could see in the way he spoke about Fulham that there is a real affection there; he didn’t just say, ‘Yes, I’ll be looking at Fulham’s results’, it was more like, ‘Of course I will be’, like it was a daft question.
“A lot of the players he played with at U18 level are now in the U23s, and you would often see Fabio at U23 games as a spectator. So he really bought into the club’s ethos, he valued the support he received from the coaches, and you never heard a bad word said about him.
“But he’s also fiercely ambitious, and he’s never hidden that. I remember him doing an interview with the matchday programme and talking about wanting to win the Ballon d’Or.
“I think you need that drive to push yourself to the next level. When he gets to Liverpool’s training ground and he’s got people like Mohamed Salah there, Thiago Alcantara etc, you’ve got to back yourself! He’ll be able to do that, but while also showing respect at the same time.”
So, what type of player are Liverpool getting exactly? Carvalho - who has already notched two goals and two assists for Portugal’s U21s since debuting for them in March - played the No.10 role in Silva’s 4-2-3-1 system at Fulham, helping Aleksandar Mitrovic along the way to his tally of 43 goals with clever decoy runs and perfecting the art of curling right-foot shots from the edge of the box.
Rutzler adds: “I think it will be absolutely fascinating to find out where Klopp sees the best in him, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play as a central midfielder, in that position kind of halfway between a No.8 and a No.10.
“He has played out wide before, in his younger years in the academy, and you can see that in his style of play when he drifts to the left-hand side and runs in behind the right centre-half. But where we’ve seen the best of him this year is certainly in that central position just off the striker.
“With his frame, the question always is: can he compete in midfield physically? But if you have the right balance in midfield, you can get a lot out of him, because he’s not the sort of player to shirk a tackle or not put the work in.
“Fulham were always trying to find the right pathway for Carvalho, and it’s difficult for them going up and down between the Premier League and the Championship, it’s high stakes every season, but there was never any sense that they were going to loan him out because his style wasn’t suited to the lower leagues.
“So you would then naturally think, ‘Well, is it suited to the Championship either?’ But he’s been put into that environment and came out of it with 10 goals, eight assists and a winner’s medal. So that’s what he’s shown, and I don’t doubt he’ll be able to replicate it at Liverpool.”