Today’s the day Fulham fans probably prayed wouldn’t materialise. Fabio Carvalho’s long written about and protracted transfer to Liverpool becomes official. The twinkle-toed attacking midfielder, a bundle of energy, always seemed like a young man in a hurry ever since he slotted seamlessly into Marco Silva’s side last summer and – should he avoid injuries – appears destined for the very top. Carvalho might be quiet off the field, but he has a steely determination to make the best of his prodigious talent (he wasn’t joking when he spoke about winning the Ballon d’Or in an academy interview with the Fulham programme) – and I, for one, he does it all.

Carvalho’s departure triggered another round of recriminations amongst the Fulham faithful about why the club can’t keep hold of the best talent produced by our Category One academy. The loss of a prospect as peerless as the little Portuguese starlet for a pittance might be grievous, but last year’s reorganisation of the youth structure at Motspur Park was designed to strengthen the pathway from Steve Wigley’s all-conquering under-23 side to the first team – and the success of skipper Sonny Hilton, who has gone straight from signing a new contract after lifting the Johnny Haynes Trophy to a season-long loan at Carlisle United, as well as Jay Stansfield’s refusal to countenance offers from rival London clubs and commit to Fulham shows that approach is already baring fruit.

Carvalho’s eye-catching development since breaking into Fulham’s under 18 side as a fifteen year old meant he was coveted across continental Europe long before he was handed a Premier League debut. He scored a hat-trick on his first start for Wigley’s under 18 side against Reading at Motspur Park and, following several sensational performances, quickly established himself as a creative force with the maturity and technical ability to shine in a higher age group, which saw him fast-tracked into the under 23 set-up. His rapid rise was only held up as Scott Parker lacked the bravery to hand the youngster a senior start until his far too cautious side had succumbed to drop; Carvalho scored at his full Premier League debut at Southampton with a stupendous finish that briefly threatened an unlikely comeback at St. Mary’s.

The youngster has always credited his footballing education at Balham, where he came to Fulham’s attention via a coach who was a long-standing Craven Cottage season ticket holder, with easing his acclimatisation to this country after his family left Lisbon. Carvalho remains close to everyone at his first English club – often returning to watch his former team-mates and the club’s youth sides when he has a weekend without a match – and has also acted as a mentor to a number of the burgeoning talents in Fulham’s younger age group sides, recognising the role that the west London side’s academy has played in sharpening his skills. In many ways, Fabio is the antithesis of the spoilt rich footballer who thinks he has already made it.

I can’t claim to know Carvalho well, but I was fortunate enough to be asked to present him with Johnny Haynes’ Trophy on behalf of the Fulham Supporters’ Trust last year. I met a young man who was clearly happy to let his football do the talking, but asked plenty of questions about the Trust, my time following Fulham and what my hopes for the rest of the season. He laughed uproariously when I produced a pen to help him sign a new deal with us and thanked me for handing the trophy over; it was, of course, richly deserved for a player who had always stood out at youth level.

Recounting his impact in Silva’s superb side seems rather unnecessary at this point. The ball seemed to stick to his feet at times during those mesmerising individual runs, but he had the intelligence to find team-mates with a collection of crossfield passes that would probably have impressed Haynes himself, and often added artistry to the Fulham attack in the final third. There was a poacher’s finish to open his account for the campaign at Huddersfield, followed by a virtuoso display at the New Den and after recovering from a troublesome toe injury and Covid, returned to score in the 4-1 win bashing of Barnsley.

He scored twice in a 6-2 hammering of Birmingham City and the quality of his all-round performance prompted fevered transfer speculation. Liverpool attempted to complete a deal to sign Carvalho in the dying embers of the January transfer window after a month of flirtation but it was the player himself who pulled the plug on that transfer – deciding to stay with Fulham for the remainder of the campaign – rather than the formalities not being completed ahead of the deadline, as was widely reported. Carvalho continued to demonstrate his star quality memorably opening the scoring at Manchester City in the FA Cup, and engineering an exquisite finish at Derby County, although Fulham threw away the chance to clinch promotion that night.

It was fitting that he was amongst the goals as Fulham finally made sure of promotion at the Cottage against Preston. An illustration of just how down to earth the nineteen year old is came as I attended my first game of football in more than four months: with the under 23s set to seal the PL2 Division 2 title at Motspur Park. Carvalho, carrying a bag of signed shirts to distribute at Balham the next day, came across the railway crossing away from the training ground and spotted me sitting on a bench nearby. He asked if I was okay, talked with me for ten minutes, and enquired if I would be attending the Luton game on the Monday night. I answered in the affirmative and told him he needed to mark the occasion with a goal. ‘I’ll do my best,’ he smiled as he walked away.

As we all know, he signed off in front of the Hammersmith End with a strike of sublime quality. I’ve read plenty of social media comments slagging off Carvalho for going missing in the middle of season, chasing the money or not showing enough respect for the club that gave him his break. None of it that carries the feintest scintilla of truth. This young man was an integral part of the most stylish Fulham side in more than two decades – and if he continues to shine in the future, then the structure of the deal agreed with Liverpool, means that the Whites will be quids in. Thanks for the memories, Fab.