Fabio Carvalho has the happy habit of making a striking first impression. When Colin Omogbehin was sufficiently impressed by the slight playmaker’s potential at Balham to offer him a trial with Fulham, the youngster stole the show at Tottenham scoring twice and making three goals to spark an astonishing comeback to win 5-3. He made his debut for the under 18s at the tender age of fifteen – bagging a hat-trick against Reading on his first start – and, as we all know, the youngster also scored on his first Premier League start against Southampton last season.
It is Carvalho’s poise and technical excellence that stands out when you first watch him. He takes supreme care of the ball, as you would expect from a youngster honed in the Benfica youth system, but his leadership qualities have been recognised from an early age, as he was handed the England armband at under 15 and under 16 levels. Carvalho adjusted very quickly to both education and football in England after moving here with his family aged eleven and there was soon a steady stream of scouts flocking to Balham to watch his assured displays.
His name has been whispered quietly at Motspur Park as the next talent to watch for many years. They don’t like to put pressure on their young proteges at the Fulham academy, but Carvalho thrives on the opportunity to show just what he can do. There might have been concerns about whether he could make the step up from youth level to senior football, especially after a stellar 2020 which saw him record eleven goals and eight assists as he split his time between Steve Wigley’s all-conquering under 18s and the under 23s.
But Carvalho banished any doubt by blossoming when offered the opportunity to join the first team squad for training. He might have scored on his senior debut with a bit more luck when he was introduced as a substitute against Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup and he threatened to spark a late revival at Stamford Bridge when Scott Parker summoned him from the bench for a Premier League bow with Fulham 2-0 down. The former Fulham boss described him as ‘a shining light’ in a dismal season, something underlined by the quality of his finish at Southampton that briefly brought an already relegated side back into a game that looked beyond them. He didn’t look overawed at Old Trafford either, denied another goal only by a smart David de Gea block.
With continuing concern about just how well Tom Cairney’s knees will withstand the rigours of a Championship campaign, the teenager has the perfect chance to nail down a starting spot at the start of the new season. Marco Silva has certainly been impressed by the eighteen year-old’s contributions to date – he has featured in every Fulham pre-season fixture this summer – and he already looks like the frontrunner to take the number ten role in the club captain’s absence. Carvalho can play out wide but it is in the hole where he is most effective as an a perceptive passer who also loves to take on defenders and has an eye for goal.
Silva has spoken about his desire to play adventurous football and provide Aleskandar Mitrovic with the sort of service that the Serbian has previously thrived on at this level. A confident Carvalho would pose a serious problem to Championship defences, fitting the blueprint of ‘fast, attacking football’ that Joe Bryan revealed the new boss had laid down to his charges, and add energy to a side that has previously looked lethargic in the final third. His numbers at youth level are outstanding – he has scored fifteen with thirteen assists in 38 under-18 appearances and netted sixteen in 33 matches with six assists for the under-23s – and, if given the opportunity to flourish in the senior side this season, there’s every chance Carvalho can continue his meteoric rise.