Of the four members of Real Madrid’s Portuguese community, Ricardo Carvalho is the most unassuming. While Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo are rarely out of the headlines, and Pepe has been commanding plenty of column inches with his recent contract negotiations, the former Chelsea centre-back prefers to keep himself to himself and has been quietly getting on with the job of marshalling the Merengue rearguard.
Carvalho’s signing for Mourinho’s new-look Real was questioned by some fans, unsure about his ability to perform consistently. Bringing all his experience and know-how to bear, however, the 32-year-old has been in superb form all season.
Yet, as he acknowledges, good fortune has also had a part to play in his enduring excellence: “I’ve never had a knee or ankle operation, and when I’m fit I rarely get injured. I know I can run for 90 minutes without any problems, and I’m very pleased about the fact that I’ve never had a serious injury.”
Making the most of his ability to avoid the treatment table and providing a calming presence at the heart of the Real defence, the incombustible Carvalho has played 40 games already this season. In terms of time spent on the pitch, only Iker Casillas, Marcelo and Ronaldo have chalked up more minutes than his 3,521.
“Pepe has a very strong temperament," said Casillas. "He’s a great kid with a big heart, whereas Ricardo is more mature and patient. Ricardo’s been around for a long time, and it’s great for us to have people with his vast experience and such a high standing in world football. He’s an absolutely vital player who’s helped us to grow, and he’s essential to the team.”
Mourinho is another staunch admirer, having made his compatriot a key component of his tactical set-up. “Carvalho is one of the best centre-halves in the world and he’s at his peak right now,” said the outspoken coach, who has already enjoyed plenty of success with the uncompromising defender, winning the UEFA Champions League title with him at Porto as well as two English Premier League crowns at Chelsea.
That appreciation is reciprocated by Carvalho: “He’s the best coach in the world, and he knows exactly what needs to be done.”
Carvalho’s greatest virtues are his innate positional sense, ability to anticipate the play and his gift for winning the ball and bringing it out of defence. The Portuguese is also a formidable opponent in the air at both ends of the pitch, and has also scored three goals this season.
“I can understand why some people were critical when I signed,” said Carvalho, who cited Franz Beckenbauer, Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini as his role models. “I’m 32 but I was sure I’d be successful here. It’s a different style of play, and I wanted to show that I was in the right physical and mental shape.
"It would have been easier for me to stay at Chelsea, where I’d already earned people’s respect. Leaving there meant starting again, but that’s just what I needed: a challenge. Real Madrid was just the challenge I was looking for.”
Though he already has the small matter of 18 trophies to his name, Carvalho has every intention of extending his impressive roll of honour: “Mourinho and I have won a lot of titles together, and I hope to win more with him here.”