Battle-hardened at Chelsea FC, centre-back Ricardo Carvalho relishes the physical game. And he tells Champions, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League, he has the scars to prove it.
Champions: Have you always been a defender?
Ricardo Carvalho: Always. A different one, but always a defender. I remember at Porto players like Jorge Costa – they just kicked the ball, they don't care, don't want to play, want to be safe. They are strong in the air and physical. My characteristic is I like to get the ball, to try to play with the midfield or strikers.
Champions: Is Carlo Ancelotti supportive of your way of playing?
Carvalho: Up to now he is, because we've also got a defensive midfielder who can cover a bit. It's my style and I can't change. Either I play like that or I don't play. I can't avoid going forward once or twice a game, and if he doesn't like it he'll put me on the bench or not play me. It's in my blood. I want to enjoy the game – when I see an opportunity to get forward, it's too late to wonder if Ancelotti is going to like it.
Champions: Some defenders give the impression they don't enjoy football. There is so much pressure and so many mistakes to avoid.
Carvalho: True. Sometimes, going into big games, you know you can't miss the ball, can't make a mistake. You are so tense. I've had games like that, and at the end I've thought I didn't play my game and feel frustrated. Even if you get a result, it's like I was there but I just kicked the ball away. It's not my way of playing, so I try always to do what I like to do. If I make a good run it's better than just waiting and kicking the ball away.
Champions: José Mourinho's assistant coach Rui Faria says when you first came to England you were a bit soft.
Carvalho: To be fair, he knows. I arrived here with a small problem in my shoulder. I grew up in Portugal and the way I was playing was a little ...
Players who grow in England are different, they are tough, strong. My first year was difficult because I wanted the ball, wanted to play, and the pace here is unbelievable. The players are physically strong, and if they don't play well they kick. It wasn't my game. And every time I jumped with my arm my shoulder would pop out. With time it got weaker. In May 2005 I had an operation, I started to work a bit in the gym, which I'd never done before, and I improved a lot.
Champions: Now you're one of the hardest defenders in the division and clever with physical contact.
Carvalho: I've learned a lot since I arrived. It's so physical. Sometimes we have to deal with that, but I like it. My body is not as strong as a normal centre-back in England, but I like to play hard and tackle. I love to make crazy tackles, I like to slide on the ground.
Champions: You have the scars to prove it. How many times have you had stitches?
Carvalho: A lot, and sometimes I feel angry. Sometimes I've gone for crazy headers to try and win the ball – you want to win it and you don't worry about your safety as it's part of the game.
Three or four times I've broken my skull. I feel disappointed when we don't win headers, so sometimes I've gone for one and it's like: 'OK, if I don't win it, I'll clash heads.' I'm calmer now, but at the start I was trying to do my best to win every header because it was so difficult here. I made mistakes and I have scars.
Champions: Is there any quality or skill you'd like to have?
Carvalho: I'm not as tall as centre-backs here, but I've won headers against them. I've scored two or three against Manchester United with Ferdinand and Vidić in defence. At Porto there were taller centre-backs than me, but they were on the bench because I was quicker, I turned quicker. I said to the coach, 'I have to grow a bit.' But he said: 'No, you'll start to get slow to turn, slow to run. You're good, you are there now.'
Champions: If you could discuss football with anyone, who would you choose?
Carvalho: I'm not the guy to discuss football with. I have my own views! Even with Mourinho, I'd say something and always his view was different. He understood mine but sometimes I couldn't understand his. I'd discuss more general things about life with him. I've always enjoyed watching big players in my position, so maybe it would be good to talk to Beckenbauer, Baresi or Maldini. But it'd be more about defending, because football is just football.
Champions: The two are different?
Carvalho: Football is general, defending is specific. A defender is one thing, football is about defending and playing. Normally, play comes from us defenders so we have to defend, not concede, close down space, be focused on the strikers and after all that try to get a move going. So discussing football with a defender would be a good start.
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