Nuno Tavares, UEFA.com's Portugal reporter at the U21 EURO in the Czech Republic, asks what makes William Carvalho so exciting and ponders just how far he can go.
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"He's an amazing player with fantastic passing ability for such a strong holding midfielder." Those were the words that Club Atlético de Madrid midfielder Tiago used to describe international team-mate William Carvalho after the 2-1 friendly defeat of France in October.
Considering he is already capable of impressing his senior Portugal compatriots, what can we expect from William at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship? Opening their Group B campaign against England in Uherske Hradiste on Thursday is not the easiest of starts for Portugal, but coach Rui Jorge's mission received a huge boost when Sporting's William received the green light from senior coach Fernando Santos to come to the Czech Republic.
What makes him so special?
Hailed as one of the most promising Portuguese rising stars, William made his professional debut for Sporting at the age of 18. After various loan spells, he became an influential figure for the Lisbon giants and caught the attention of then Portugal coach Paulo Bento. "He's a very bright kid and tactically he's very competent," said Bento, who played William at last summer's FIFA World Cup. "Besides that, he's also gifted technically." So, maturity, intelligence and experience of playing at the highest level …
How important is he to Portugal?
The likes of Bernardo Silva, Carlos Mané, Ivan Cavaleiro, Rafa Silva and Gonçalo Paciência offer plenty of options when it comes to exciting, attacking football, but Portugal will also need a rock in the centre of the pitch in order to maintain a degree of stability when they are under threat. William provides exactly this, playing in a style reminiscent of Patrick Vieira at Arsenal.
He is always perfectly positioned and is particularly skilled at anticipating the opponents' next move, allowing him to break up play and launch his team on the counterattack. Blessed with an imposing frame – which he uses intelligently rather than brutally – the Angolan-born 23-year-old could be the key to beating Gareth Southgate's team, especially if he dominates midfield like he so often did in the Portuguese Liga last season.
How far can he go?
Already reported to be attracting the attention of some of Europe's biggest clubs, William has what it takes to succeed at the highest level – particularly considering he looks to be mastering one of the most important roles in modern football. Even more impressive is his insatiable motivation and the ambition he shows even when 'dropping down' to the U21 setup. "I've played 52 matches this season but it could have been 100 and it wouldn't make any difference," he said. "You can never feel tired when you're representing your country. I'm here with all my heart and soul."