It’s always hard if you’re seen as the sidekick in a successful partnership. Ricardo Carvalho has often had to play second fiddle to bigger names in the various teams he’s played for over the years, but he’s come to be recognised as one of the best defenders to grace the Premier League over the past few decades.
He spent season after season as the Robin to John Terry’s version of Batman in his most famous role, although that’s not really the fairest description of his contribution to the cause.
To carry on with the tired analogy, they were more like Bruce Wayne and his Batmobile. Both were capable of great things, but their power increased exponentially when they teamed up.
The Portuguese international has enjoyed an Indian Summer, reinventing himself at the age of 38 at Euro 2016. He started off lining up next to Pepe for the international side, although they were shaky during their opening group games in the tournament and ended up opting for José Fonte.
He’s famed for his tough tackling, as well as being stronger than his frame suggests. What he lacked in height, he more than made up for in aerial ability, positioning and a will to get the ball.
It all began when Carvalho made his breakthrough at Porto following a few stints on loan at Leça, Vitória Setúbal and Alverca.
He managed to force his way into the first team at the Estádio do Dragão in 2002, eventually causing club captain Jorge Costa to leave for Charlton to ensure he could get game time as he vied for a place in the international squad.
His relationship manager with José Mourinho began to develop during his time in Portugal, where they enjoyed sustained success domestically. He played a major part in their famous Champions League win in 2004, which caused his stock to rise rapidly.
He was also present in the Portugal Euro 2004 squad that made it all the way to the final, although they were seen off by Greece in a shock result. Despite the loss, it was a strong year for the defender.
He followed his manager to Chelsea after their European Cup triumph, and the player enjoyed a highly successful stint during his time in the capital. The £19 million fee was an outlandish sum at the time, but he proved his worth over the following seasons.
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Read | José Mourinho: the Porto years
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He says that he chose England over Spain because of the increased challenge to be found in the Premier League at the time, which shows a willingness to keep moving forward that has been ever-present throughout his career.
The Blues won the league in 2005 to help break the duopoly of Arsenal and Manchester United at the top, but it’s worth remembering that the player did face difficulties during the early stages of his time in West London.
After fielding William Gallas and John Terry ahead of the former Porto star, Mourinho decided to lay down the law after the player was quoted as saying he didn’t understand why he had to wait for an opportunity to get game time: “Ricardo Carvalho seems to have problems understanding things, maybe he should have an IQ test. I am not happy to have heard about this through the papers. Ricardo has worked with me for four years and I do not understand these quotes, he probably needs to see a doctor.”
It was a typically harsh putdown, but the player soon proved that he had what it took to hold down a spot next to John Terry in the Chelsea back line.
He formed one of the most impressive defensive partnerships of recent memory with Terry, and he was often forgotten next to the headline grabbing former England captain. He spoke recently about how they connected on a level he never managed to experience again on the pitch: “With him, everything was natural, we didn’t need to talk during matches. Each of us knew how the other was going to react in the face of difficulties created by the opponent. They’re things that you feel and are difficult to explain.”
They had the ability to work in tandem, while each complimented the other with their differing styles of play. Carvalho always appeared more relaxed and slightly languid on the field when compared to his partner but each were just as important as the other when it came to keeping clean sheets and winning trophies.
With Petr Čech between the sticks, they were often near-unbeatable, and helped to turn Stamford Bridge into a fortress that was the location for a memorable 86-match unbeaten run across all competitions.
After six seasons with the Blues it was time to move on. The defender left with a trio of league titles and numerous smaller trophies and said that he needed a new challenge after feeling “saturated” because he was too comfortable within the Chelsea setup.
The club seemed prepared for the loss at the time but they never really adequately replaced the Portuguese international. Gary Cahill was eventually brought in and formed a decent partnership with his international team-mate, but it was a pale comparison to the former double act on show at the Bridge.
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Ricardo Carvalho at Real Madrid
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Again, he could have picked the easier option of staying in a loving environment, but instead he chose to move to a team that would provide the biggest challenge available.
One more move with Mourinho was on the cards, and this time it was the biggest stage of all. Carvalho was signed to play in the famous white shirt of Real Madrid, but he struggled to cement his place in the squad.
The defender didn’t get as many opportunities as he would have wanted at the Spanish side as his time ended in disastrous fashion. He was mostly used as a utility player after a decent first season but, by 2012, it was looking increasingly likely that there was no way back into the first team.
This time, Mourinho made it known that he was definitely surplus to requirements: “Ricardo is not part of our plans for the season, it is up to him whether he wants to continue playing football or stay at Real Madrid and meet his contractual obligations and practically end his sporting career.”
He opted to see out his contract in the stand, a kick in the teeth considering he was used to being a regular in his career.
Mourinho may have predicted the end of his time as a footballer but it turned out that there was still life in the man forgotten in the white shirt of Los Blancos. Lesser players might have called it a day but Carvalho managed to bide his time, knowing that he still had a lot to give for any club that picked him up afterwards.
While Cristiano Ronaldo steals almost of the headlines for the Portuguese national team, Carvalho has, for the most part, also been a faithful servant over the years.
He quit the national team in 2011 after walking out following a training ground dispute with Paulo Bento, who accused him of deserting the team: “I’ve played 75 times for Portugal and have been deeply dedicated to defending the good name of the Portuguese team. I have never before felt so disrespected and my dignity so wounded. Among my team-mates, I’m just another player.
“However, I deserve, like the others, consideration and respect. I did not intend to end my international career like this, but I do so consciously and convinced that I always honoured my country. I would like to thank all the Portuguese people.”
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Carvalho in action for Portugal
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He eventually re-joined the fold after the removal Bento and the appointment of Fernando Santos. It took three years to mend the bridges damaged during his time away, which is another reason why he doesn’t have as many caps as he perhaps should.
His ability to read the game has enabled him to continue well into his late-30s, while his expertise makes him a valued member of the international team and for his club side, Monaco. Euro 2016 is inevitably his last tournament, but there’s no shame in the choices he made throughout his career.
In 2013 he signed for Monaco and he made an immediate impact for the side. There were no signs of rustiness as he belied his advancing age by securing a place in the first team, which he’s held on to since making the switch.
The newly-promoted side had only just made it back to Ligue 1, but they had no trouble asserting themselves in their new surroundings. Claudio Ranieri’s men were pipped at the post for the title by Paris Saint-Germain, but Carvalho stood out again as a key man.
The Portuguese eventually earned a one-year extension for his services and continued to play a key part in their success over the next 12 months. In the 2015-16 season he played 44 times for club and country, ever-present in the Monaco defence that managed to qualify for the Champions League.
Considering his career was thought to be over, his late-career success is all the more impressive. Perhaps the time he spent on the bench at Madrid allowed him to squeeze a few more years from his talent.
His contract with Monaco is up this summer and it remains to be seen whether the player is open to one more challenge. If so, he still has a lot to offer, despite a few injury worries over the last couple of seasons. Defenders of his type are built to last, but none can outrun time itself.
By all accounts, Carvalho’s a gentleman off the pitch, living up to his media persona of a reserved player who doesn’t hog the limelight. Perhaps that’s why he’s sometimes seen as a sidekick when in reality he always had the talent and application to be the main man.
As one of the smaller world-class centre-backs to feature in the Premier League, it’s hard not to have fond memories of the player during his time at Chelsea, often highlighted by his pace, reading of the game and outstanding consistency.
Never languid, but always elegant, European football will lose a truly special talent when he finally hangs up his boots. He was known for being just as tough as his team-mates, but he added a touch of class to proceedings at the Bridge. There was always a sense that he was in complete control and supporters of Chelsea would no doubt clamour for a player of his calibre to shore up a defence that struggled throughout 2015-16.
By James Milin-Ashmore. Follow @jamoashmore