Exclusive: Hull City's Liverpool loanee Fabio Carvalho might be humble and grounded but he dreams of being their main man at Wembley

The son of a plumber and a committed Christian who moved to this country from Portugal as a primary schoolchild unable to speak any English, Fabio Carvalho is humble and grounded.

The player on loan from Liverpool at Hull City is early for our interview in the hotel which was the Tigers’ Turkish training base this week and speaks perfect English with a southern twang. You would never know he plays in football's fantasy No 10 position and has Portugal Under-21s and the Champions League on his CV.

Yet it soon becomes clear he is enjoying being a main man again.

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Eighteen months on from the pivotal role in Fulham’s Championship title which earnt his move to Liverpool, ambitious Hull loaned Carvalho in January to be a difference-maker in their Premier League push. Usually out wide or on the bench at Liverpool and on loan at RB Leipzig in the first half of the season, he normally plays centrally at Hull, scoring four goals in 11 games. He might only be 21, but chairman/owner Acun Ilicali asked him to be a leader.

Believe in him, it seems, and you will be generously repaid.

"It feels good having that pressure on a matchday.,” he says. “You know the result might depend on what you do on the pitch and it's just a great feeling."

Carvalho seemed to find a magic formula in his final Craven Cottage season and felt it again when he heard Hull’s sales pitch.

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"I feel like it was the right team-mates, right coaches and a manager who believed in me," he smiles. "I was going into training as I am right now, just excited, looking forward to training and getting better.

MAIN MAN: Fabio Carvalho is relishing the responsibility of trying to win promotion at Hull CityMAIN MAN: Fabio Carvalho is relishing the responsibility of trying to win promotion at Hull City
MAIN MAN: Fabio Carvalho is relishing the responsibility of trying to win promotion at Hull City

"It's so important knowing the manager has your back, regardless of what you do, who knows what you're capable of, what you're good at – a manager that can help you every day. It allows me to make sure I'm playing football I want to play and that I think is best to help the team. You're just more relaxed, you're not tense and you play with freedom. It just comes naturally then.

"I was driving back from my agent's office and Tyler Morton (also on loan at Hull from Liverpool) messaged me and Mika (Jean Michael Seri, his old Fulham team-mate) called me. Tyler told me the gaffer wanted to speak to me and it was such a good club. Then Mika called and said the exact same thing. They wouldn't lie to me.

"I jumped on a Zoom call that night with Tan (Kesler, the vice-chairman) and Liam. They said the owner was going to call me. I respected the effort they were putting in.

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"I played against Derby when Liam was the assistant and I scored. He said, 'I know you,' and I'm, like, 'What do you mean?'

BOND: Hull City coach Liam Rosenior embraces Fabio CarvalhoBOND: Hull City coach Liam Rosenior embraces Fabio Carvalho
BOND: Hull City coach Liam Rosenior embraces Fabio Carvalho

"He said, 'You played against me, you scored and I had to make up a whole plan to stop you and Mika.' I started laughing. It was one of the first things he said to me.

"We just clicked. I speak to him a lot and he speaks to me a lot and we've got a good bond going. I feel like every player, starting or not starting , can go to him and speak about anything. It’s easy to relate to him.

"One thing he said stuck with me. He said you have to go to a club where you're excited about training, about learning. I thought I hadn't had that for a long time.

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"Then Acun called and said, 'I really want you to come here, you can see the project we're building, the players – Tyler, Jaden (Philogene), Liam (Delap), and I knew how well they were doing. He said we'd got experienced players as well – Mika, Coyley (Lewie Coyle), Cyrus (Christie). Greavesie (Jacob Greaves) is a mixture. He said he thought I'd fit in perfectly and with my experience I could help the younger players."

SALES PITCH: Jean Michael Seri knew Fabio Carvalho from their time together at FulhamSALES PITCH: Jean Michael Seri knew Fabio Carvalho from their time together at Fulham
SALES PITCH: Jean Michael Seri knew Fabio Carvalho from their time together at Fulham

For Ilicali to ask a 21-year-old to do that was striking and almost certainly came from the man he referred this week to as Hull's "doctor" – Rosenior.

"When we identify a player, me and my staff make probably eight or 10 calls about their personality, their family situation, what they're like as people, what they're like as characters,” explains the coach.

"Because Fabio had such a great time at Fulham and went to Liverpool, people don't understand his background story and the resilience he’s had to become a professional footballer, let alone a Champions League footballer. He will leave a mark in terms of professionalism and showing what it takes to make it at the highest level.

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"Me and Acun both spoke to a player and asked, 'What do you think of Fabio Carvalho?' He said, 'Oh yeah, top player – where's he going to?'

"There was an aura about him, especially from the younger players, but he's humble, down to earth, he works hard. He mirrors all the values we want here as a club."

Hear that background story and everything makes sense.

"My dad (Victor) used to go abroad to work a lot as a plumber and he found a job in England,” he says. "We waited a few months and I didn't know and neither my brother nor my sister knew we were coming. One day we just woke up and my mum said, 'Pack your bags, we're leaving.'

"It was cold, it was different. We didn't speak the language but we were all together as a family and that's all you can ask for.

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"I was 11. My sister's younger so doesn't really remember much. My brother was a teenager so I think it was a little bit different for him. He got pulled away from his friends. I was just all about playing football.

"I was halfway through year six (at school) and I didn't speak the language but my cousin came to school with me and she spoke Portuguese and English.

"On the first day I played football and I made friends through that. If you're good at football, everyone kind of likes you!"

His break came quickly.

"I started playing for Balham Blazers," he says. "My mum (Freitas) searched on the internet and found the most local team – it wasn't really that local, it was 35 minutes. I went along and my brother came with me.

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"His age were training, mine was earlier so I missed it. They said I could train with them and wanted to sign me straight away. My brother's three or four years older.

"I started going to tournaments and had a few scouts watching me. One was Colin Omogbehin, my coach at Fulham from (under-)16s all the way up to the first team. I messaged him the other day. He was a father figure for me. When I went to the school Fulham used he would go and check I was okay. I thank Colin for everything.

"At Fulham I went from under-12s to the first team and it's a journey I can't forget. I don't think it's luck, I think it's down to God I was in the right time at the right moment to make the most of what you're given. Recently I've started gravitating more towards religion. My mum tells me to read the Bible and I'm asking a higher power to help me."

Carvalho learnt many things at Liverpool, including how to deal with disappointment.

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"I went with the intention to play," he says. "It's a big club, big players, but I felt I was able to play with the best and take their positions. It was a great learning experience playing with amazing footballers, holding my own in training and outperforming some of them because I knew I was training better than some players.

"Jurgen Klopp taught me so much. I haven't played as much under him as I would have liked. He thinks it's time to go but I wish he'd stayed a bit longer so I could work with him more but it feels like a fresh start. Whoever comes in, I'll work my socks off to try and prove I deserve to be there.

"I didn't play as much as I hoped at Leipzig but I played Champions League football so I can't complain. I don't think I was given a fair chance but you've got to take every chance, even if it's five or 10 minutes.

"I definitely matured. It was my first time away from my family."

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Liverpool and Leipzig are at the elite end of European football. Hull, with respect, are not, but are striving for it, as shown by the facilities Ilicali plumped for this week.

"If you want to perform at the elite level you've got to have the facilities to back it up," argues Carvalho. "If you want to get to the Premier League, the best clubs do this."

For January signings like Carvalho, the trip was a lot about team bonding but with 100 fans there at Ilicali's expense, it has also been about stronger ties across the club.

"As much as it brings joy to the fans, it brings joy to us because it just shows how we're together, not just as a club but the whole city's behind us. To be able to give back to the fans who have given me so much is a blessing. They love football and I'm in a position to make them happy through football."

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What would make them most happy a Carvalho match-winning performance in May's play-off final if Hull – three points off the top six with a game in hand – can just get there.

"When the games are coming up I focus on the games but when I have time to relax I think about what it feels like to lift the trophy at Wembley,” admits Carvalho. “The more you put out into the universe, the more likely you are to get it."

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