Most football fans today, relate the game to the particular club he or she supports, the leagues in England, Spain and Italy being the most popular. But the true essence of ‘The Beautiful Game’ lies in international football. There is a different feeling associated with international football, for both fans and players that still ranks it high in the pecking order of world football.
The crowning jewels of International football are the World Cup, the Euros and the Copa America. These tournaments bring along with them, the excitement of witnessing new talents who will go on to make it big in the game, Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Cristiano Ronaldo are perfect examples from the past who have gone on to become household names.
In the Euros this time round, we have exciting new players like Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli to look forward to. But, some players also come along who are in the twilight of their respective careers and are looking to bow out of international football in style. Some leave their mark at the end while many just end up struggling, trying to match those many years younger and fitter than them.
This year as well, we will have many players possibly retiring. But, one name keeps popping into my head when I think of possible international retirements and swansongs. The player is Ricardo Carvalho, who at the age of 38, enters Euro 2016 as its oldest player.
A true Portuguese star
Well, which true football fan wouldn’t have heard this name? After Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo, Carvalho stands as probably one of the most famous, well established and successful Portuguese footballers. His has been, a truly spectacular career and is one worth marveling at and applauding.
Carvalho began his career by joining FC Porto back in 1997. Between 1998 and 2001, Carvalho enjoyed successful loan spells, playing for Leca, Vitoria De Setubal and FC Alverca. After this is when the success story truly begins.
In the 2001-02 season, Carvalho was just beginning to feature as a prominent figure in the Porto first team. But when given the chance, he showcased his potential to the fullest. He began the Jose Mourinho era as the third choice centre back. But his wonderful performances made him a crucial team player. In the following two seasons, he cemented his position as one of the best and won many accolades, both individual as well as for his club, the crowning jewel being the UEFA Champions League trophy back in 2004.
Chelsea calling for Carvalho
Carvalho followed Mourinho to England by joining Chelsea in 2004. He joined the club already having a formidable reputation and he certainly didn’t disappoint. His centre-back partnership with John Terry stands as one of the most famous and strong defensive partnerships in modern day football. Carvalho is quick with his feet and is good in the air as well.This only improved the quality of Chelsea’s backline.
This partnership was crucial to Chelsea going on to win the Premier League for back to back seasons and establishing its name as a true European Powerhouse. Even after Mourinho departed in 2007, Carvalho kept his performance standards high, although there were niggling injury problems. He didn’t play every game but was an important squad leader. He left Chelsea in 2010 as a True Blues Legend.
Carvalho then joined Real Madrid in 2010. He was into his 30’s and naturally, wasn’t always the first choice for the club. But, when called upon, he usually gave consistent performances, especially when he was tagged along with Pepe in the centre of the defence.
He then joined AS Monaco at the age of 35. Considering the general trend of central defenders, many expected Carvalho to be nearing the end of his long career. AS Monaco isn’t as big a powerhouse as the other clubs he had represented in his illustrious career. Well into his 30’s, Monaco seemed to be the sensible choice. But, here is the best part of the story, ‘The Resurgence’.
Over the past three years, Carvalho has reestablished himself as one of the best in Europe, defying the term ‘age ‘as a criterion in defining how well one can perform. Possibly, a lot of this comes down to him choosing to live a simple life in the Mediterranean rather than get lost in the glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo.
Thus, considering the number of accolades and trophies he has won till date, he is a true club football legend.
A return to the national team
His international career began in 2003 and has gone on to represent Portugal in multiple international tournaments. He initially retired back in 2011 following an altercation with then manager, Paulo Bento.
However, in 2014, he came out of retirement and has since gone on to become an important figure under coach Fernando Santos. Most remember him for the Wayne Rooney ‘stamp’ incident back in the 2006 World Cup but there is a lot more to him and his career than that one incident. One just doesn’t earn over 80 caps for his country without any reason, does he?
Most players fail to perform consistently for both club and country, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard being the most known and famous names. But Carvalho has been one who has truly excelled for both, club and country, without making any compromises for either.
John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho for Chelsea and Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic for Manchester United were among the most famous defensive partnerships of the past 15 years. Since then, John Terry has gone on to retire from international football and is no longer a guaranteed starter at Chelsea. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have retired from all forms of the game. Who is the oldest yet last man standing? It’s none other than Ricardo Carvalho.
He might not be the tallest. He might not be the strongest. He might not be the most famous. He might not be the flashiest. But, in true footballing terms, Carvalho will have his name cemented as a footballing great. While the likes of the Ronaldo’s, the Rooney’s and the Messi’s will steal the final headlines, it is true team players like Carvalho who form the foundation and backbone of whichever team they perform for.
Portugal enters Euro 2016 as genuine contenders for making it to the final stages of the competition. There is a good mixture of youth as well as of senior players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Carvalho himself. They’ve generally performed decently well in the Euros. So what’s on the cards this time round?
As a neutral, all I can hope is Carvalho keeps defying age the way he already is doing. 38 is probably just another number. But, keeping emotions and hopes aside, Euro 2016 may very well be his last major international competition. Is a fairytale ending on the cards? I hope. I really do hope so.