Liverpool wrapped up the signing of Fabio Carvalho from Fulham earlier this year, and his rise to stardom was not a conventional one for a young player in England.

After moving to Surrey from Portugal, where he represented Benfica as a schoolboy, Carvalho and his family were on the lookout for a new team for him at under-11s level when he appeared at a Balham FC training session in 2013.

Greg Cruttwell, founder and director, wouldn’t usually allow anyone to join in without officially contacting the club first, but made an exception on this occasion.

It would go on to be one of the best exceptions he’d ever make.

Carvalho quickly showcased his talent, leaving those watching on completely gobsmacked.

“We gave him a go and within 30 seconds you could see he was pretty special,” Cruttwell told BBC Sport.

“I looked at the other coach and we both said, ‘wow, this kid’.”

A player of Carvalho’s talent could easily have been picked up by one of the country’s leading football clubs, but his family were keen to ensure he enjoyed his football and didn’t want to rush him.

Inevitably, though, the word was soon out about Carvalho’s talent, with scouts from some of England’s top clubs keen to see him in action.

“He played in a six-a-side tournament for us in Guildford and word went round about him,” Cruttwell said.

“He was unbelievable. We were packed into the clubhouse when it was raining and I could hear people talking about him. He was whipping crosses in with rabonas and all sorts!”

With a plethora of offers on the table, Balham and Carvalho’s family wanted to make sure they chose a club that had a clear pathway to first-team football, eventually opting for Fulham.

“Their academy is a category one, it is still flying today. It is one of the best around and we felt Fabio would have a good chance there,” Cruttwell added.

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 7, 2022: Fulham's Fábio Carvalho during the pre-match warm-up before the Football League Championship match between Sheffield United FC and Fulham FC at Bramall Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“His parents and Fabio weren’t dazzled by Chelsea, for example. If you go to Cobham, it is like Disneyland, but they saw the bigger picture.

“They also insisted Balham were part of the deal, we played a crucial role.”

Balham agreed what Cruttwell calls an “unprecedented” deal, and are forever grateful for Carvalho’s commitment to the club.

“We played hardball and got a deal that is unprecedented for grassroots football,” he added.

“We’ve got sell-on percentages and all that, Balham have done well out of this. It is fantastic business. What he’s done has changed the landscape for us.”

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 7, 2022: Fulham's Fábio Carvalho during the Football League Championship match between Sheffield United FC and Fulham FC at Bramall Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Cruttwell is in no doubt that Carvalho will settle quickly under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and feels he has the talent to eventually replace the likes of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.

“The type of player he is, he suits Klopp down to the bone,” predicts Cruttwell.

“The great thing about him is he keeps things simple. He passes and moves at pace, he sees things.

“He could be in that generation that replaces the likes of Firmino and Sadio Mane.”

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