By Rui Matos Pereira & Jim Wirth
Yet to kick a ball in anger in 2005, Chelsea FC defender Ricardo Carvalho is nonetheless celebrating after being named in uefa.com users' Team of 2004.
Laid up with a broken toe, the Portuguese international limped for joy as he joined former FC Porto team-mate Maniche in a prestigious XI coached by José Mourinho. uefa.com users selected Ricardo Carvalho in a central defensive position, and it is an accolade he truly appreciates.
"It's a great honour to have been voted into uefa.com's Team of 2004," he told uefa.com. "It was a fantastic year for me, both in terms of what I achieved with my old club as well as on a personal level - moving to a new club and a new challenge. I hope that this year is as successful as last year."
In addition to helping Porto win a second successive league title in 2003/04, the defender played all 1,170 minutes of their triumphant UEFA Champions League campaign, reached the final of EURO 2004™ with Portugal and earned a €30m move to Chelsea, where he may yet be a league and European champion again in 2005.
"After the success I had with Porto it was important for me personally to move on and further myself by playing in a competitive league like the English Premiership," Ricardo Carvalho explained. "It's home to some of the greatest players in the world and to be part of that is an important step in my career as a professional footballer. I'm the kind of person who wants to keep on improving and pushing myself."
Thus far, the former FC Leça trainee has been doing that in style, improving year on year and winning the affection of supporters across Europe. "I always try to do my best," he said, as he explained his strengths. "I just give everything I've got - and if everyone around me is also performing well then its even better. But football is unpredictable so you just don't know what will happen."
Certainly, the uefa.com users' team is an unpredictable beast. Six of the players in the 2004 edition are receiving their first call-ups into the illustrious side and, to Ricardo Carvalho's evident surprise, there is no place for his old Porto team-mate, FC Barcelona midfield player Deco.
"Deco is without doubt a great player who really deserves to be in the Team of the Year," said the 26-year-old. "And now at Barcelona people can really see what a valuable player he is, the way everyone in Portugal realised when he was at Porto. He would make a fantastic addition to any team."
However, one name that Ricardo Carvalho has been happy to see on the list is that of AC Milan defender Alessandro Nesta - his putative partner in the centre of defence in the users' XI. Nesta received a few more votes than his Portuguese partner - 16.63 per cent to Ricardo Carvalho's 16.59 per cent - but the Chelsea defender was magnanimous in defeat.
"Nesta has been playing consistently well at a high level for a few years now so it's only natural that he should receive so many votes from uefa.com users," he said. "People have talked about him and what a great player he is for a long time now. But I was very close behind him which is really good!"
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