After failing to complete the transfer before time expired in the January window, Jurgen Klopp has finally sealed the deal for Fulham’s Fábio Carvalho. The teenaged midfielder will join Liverpool on a 5-year contract effective July 1. Although Carvalho’s contract at Craven Cottage expires this summer, rules prevented Liverpool from picking him up on a free due to his age. Consequently, the clubs agreed on a £5M fee plus £2.7M in add-ons, as well as a 20% sell-on clause. He has already completed a medical.
If you followed the Championship this past campaign then no doubt you’re already familiar with Klopp’s new 19 year-old Portuguese. But in case you’re not, let’s run through his backstory, discuss how he might fit in at Anfield, and then speculate about his fantasy prospects.
Carvalho was born in Lisbon, Portugal on 30 August 2002 and played in Benfica’s youth academy before moving to London in 2013. The 11 year-old promptly found his way to a pitch on Clapham Common where the ninth-tier team then known as Balham Blazers was training, and he asked Coach Ollie Kanner if he could play. Kanner describes what happened next:
I said to (manager Greg Cruttwell) “I’m going to fire a ball at him and see what he does.” I fizzed a ball at him, down his throat. He takes it down on his chest, does about 67 step-overs, then fizzes it straight back at me.
The coaches were floored and swiftly signed him to the club that is now called Balham FC, where unsurprisingly he played a starring role. Says Cruttwell of his performance at a local tournament,
He was still only about 13 and everyone was talking about the kid on pitch 12. He was doing rabonas from out wide into the box. We won the tournament and he was phenomenal. There were all these 19 year-olds in awe of this 13 year-old kid who was ripping it up.
His success at Balham meant a move to bigger and better things was inevitable, and he was vigorously courted by Chelsea, Man United, and Arsenal. But Fulham won the race, the Portuguese putting pen to paper for the Cottagers in 2015.
According to Cruttwell, “We opted for Fulham because they had a top level academy and it seemed like the right fit for him.” Indeed, Huw Jennings, Fulham’s head of youth development, had already produced Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw while at Southampton, and he was in the process of developing Ryan Sessegnon plus Harvey Elliot at Fulham. That track record, plus a better chance at regular playing time at a club outside the EPL’s Big Six, convinced Carvalho and his advisors that Craven Cottage was the right place for him.
The fullness of time has validated the wisdom of that decision. Carvalho broke into the first team as an 18 year-old during the 2020-21 season, marking his first Premier League start with a goal against Southampton in May of 2021. Carvalho then blossomed into Fulham’s best player this past campaign. His 10 goals plus eight assists across 36 league appearances helped the Cottagers earn promotion back to the Prem, just one season after relegation. (For what it’s worth, he also ruined Man City’s clean sheet in a 1-4 FA Cup loss back in February.)
Below is a distillation of Carvalho’s time at Craven Cottage, which demonstrates pretty clearly why Jurgen Klopp was so keen to sign the Championship’s Young Player of the Year.
How Will Carvalho Fit In At Liverpool?
Carvalho was a free-ranging No. 10 at Fulham, driving forward with the ball at his feet and excelling at combination play. He is often compared to Philippe Coutinho, and the similarities in skill and technique are indeed significant.
But there are differences too. While Coutinho was a master of the killer pass, Carvalho’s style tends more towards short one-twos. And while Coutinho was always willing to have a crack at goal from distance, Carvalho tends to do his business inside the box. 78% of his attempts on goal occurred inside the penalty area, and he ranked 5th in the Championship for touches inside the box.
Former Red Steven Gerrard believes Klopp’s squad needs a player like that:
“They are heavily reliant on the front three, or the front five if you include Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino, but you always need one of those midfielders that are going to get in the box and get you goals.”
Carvalho’s role at Anfied will depend to some extent on who stays and who goes. Divock Origi has already bid farewell, and Takumi Minamino is widely rumored to be lining up a transfer to Leeds. More importantly, it looks increasingly likely that Sadio Mané will exit this summer as well, the Senegalese apparently unable to negotiate a satisfactory wage increase from Fenway Sports Group. With holes to fill in Liverpool’s attack, and with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino both 30 years old when the new campaign begins in August, Klopp is likely to have opportunities available for the young Portuguese as the Reds once again chase the quadruple.
In Klopp’s favored 4-3-3 formation, we could see Carvalho lining up in a midfield trio that includes Thiago and Fabinho behind Salah, Diaz and Jota (or perhaps Darwin Nunez?) across the top. But Carvalho’s success in the No. 10 role at Fulham could tempt Klopp to field him that way at Anfield. Says Ian Doyle of footballfancast.com: “While he’s not an out-and-out forward, (Carvalho) can play in an attacking midfield role which may provide some scope for tactical change — 4-2-3-1 for example.”
Deployed this way, Carvalho would line up behind the striker and be flanked by the wingers, with Thiago and Fabinho in support. That is exactly the system Marco Silva employed at Craven Cottage.
Interestingly, his heat map from last season suggests he could also be effective as a left winger, as he does enjoy cutting inside from the left flank to play the ball on his favored right foot.
The first concern fantasy managers will have about a teenager making the leap from the Championship to one of the top clubs in the world is “Will he even play? Is Carvalho a development project, or is he ready for prime time right now?”
The example of Harvey Elliott comes to mind. The teen sensation moved from Fulham to Liverpool in 2019, featuring in only two EPL games over two seasons before being loaned to Blackburn for the 2020-21 campaign. He returned to Liverpool last season, but still saw only six appearances in the Prem. Is this the kind of slow and steady grooming that lies in store for Carvalho?
Italian journalist and football transfer insider Fabrizio Romano says no. “Liverpool won’t loan Fabio Carvalho out next season. He’s gonna be part of the first team as Jurgen Klopp is convinced he could become an important player very soon.” Daily Mail‘s Dominic King agrees, saying that there are “no intentions to loan Carvalho out next season” as Liverpool “see him as having a key role to play.”
Carvalho certainly seems ready for that. Among teenagers across Europe’s top domestic leagues last season, Carvalho’s 19 goal contributions were second only to Florian Wirtz’s 24. It’s true that goal production in the Championship doesn’t always translate into equivalent goal production in the Premier League (we need look no further than Ivan Toney for proof of that), but few young footballers hold more promise than Carvalho. Indeed, in February FourFourTwo ranked Carvalho the #7 most exciting teen in all of world football.
If the young Portuguese can make good on that potential, he could become an electric addition to Klopp’s corps of attackers. He’s probably going to start life at Anfield playing domestic cup matches though, so for now he’s a watch-and-wait for me in the fantasy world. But I’m going to enjoy monitoring his real-life development as I wait for him to break into Liverpool’s regular starting XI. Along with Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota, and Harvey Elliott, Carvalho looks poised to become an integral part of Klopp’s next-generation attack.
Stats and info for this article were sourced from: skysports.com, liverpoolecho.co.uk, footballfancast.com, theguardian.com, planetsport.com, talksport.com, theathletic.com, fourfourtwo.com, liverpool.com, liverpoolfc.com, whoscored.com, and sofascore.com.
Is now the right time for Carvalho’s move away from Fulham? Was he a good pick up for Jugen Klopp? How soon will he break into Liverpool’s S-XI? Will he become an important fantasy option? Please log in and tell us what you think!