It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for Gonçalo Cardoso. Firstly, he was thrown straight into the Boavista first team to cover an injury which resulted in him playing 16 straight games in the Primeira Liga. Clubs around Europe began to take note of his performances at both club and youth international level, until one club in particular, West Ham United, came calling with an offer that he claims he simply could not refuse.
Aaron Barton for Próxima Jornada travelled down to Rush Green, West Ham’s training base to catch up with the central defender to see how he’s adjusting to life in England.
“What attracted me to West Ham United and the Premier League is what attracts every footballer that comes to England, it is in my opinion the best and most competitive league in the world. It has always been a dream of mine to play in the Premier League so when West Ham called me, I didn’t have to think twice!” he tells me.
Despite his young age, Gonçalo has coped well so far with the move from his native Portugal to England.
“It has always been a dream of mine to play in the Premier League. When West Ham called me, I didn’t have to think twice.”
“(My life) is definitely a lot different since moving. My first couple of weeks in England I stayed with my family, they came with me to help me settle in, now I am living in my apartment alone. Sometimes my family will visit me when they can but for the most-part I am alone, but I think I am a person who can settle well in a new surrounding, I can stay alone with no problem.”
One of the biggest challenges that foreign footballers face when moving to another country is having to learn the language, particularly in a sport such as football where conversation and communication is vital to team cohesion and ultimately, success. One thing that strikes me during the interview is just how good Gonçalo’s grasp of English is and how big of a factor his capability to converse in English must be, in regard to settling into life abroad. Even if he is a bit more modest.
“My English is not perfect just yet, but I am working on it”, Gonçalo tells me, this epitomises the mentality needed to succeed at a high level, to never be satisfied and always be eager to improve. Before his move to West Ham, Cardoso plied his trade for Boavista FC, a historic and great club based in the city of Oporto. It was at Boavista where he was handed his Primeira Liga debut by Jorge Simão after impressing in the youth sides. A suspension and subsequent meniscus injury for French defender Stéphane Sparagna gave Gonçalo the chance to put on the famous chequered jersey for the first time in the Primeira Liga.
“It was a great day when Jorge Simão told me I was going to play. I felt like it was my opportunity to show what I could do, but also I felt ready. I had been working with Boavista for such a long time, I had been working towards this so I thought to myself, ‘take this opportunity and just enjoy it.’”
After his debut, Gonçalo went on to play 15 games in a row for Boavista, showing that he was more than capable at playing in Portugal’s top flight. The faith Jorge Simão placed in him, allowed him to perform with confidence and to the best of his ability and thus attract the attention of West Ham.
“That run of games gave me a lot of experience, playing regularly with the older players in the Primeira Liga enabled me to mature. This experience I have gained will help me in my new experience (at West Ham).”
As a player, Gonçalo certainly fits the bill of a modern central defender, a player who is always looking to play 1-2’s out of defence, as opposed to simply hitting it long. He exudes confidence when on the ball and will often attempt to engineer an attack by moving into midfield with the ball and making an incisive pass.
Gonçalo tells me about what he thinks his strengths are,
“I like to build up from the back with my passing and start attacks, but I think my biggest attribute is my focus. I am a very focused person during the game and also in the way I work (during training), I am focused on improving and becoming better.”
Internationally, Gonçalo has represented his country at U19 level and more recently, he was called up to the U20 squad. During his time with the U19’s, he competed in the 2019 European Under-19 championships in Armenia, going unbeaten in the tournament but ultimately losing in the final to Iberian neighbours Spain. Gonçalo shared with me his thoughts on what it means to pull on the Portugal jersey and represent his country,
“Just like how I said playing in England is a dream, playing internationally is also a dream, especially in a tournament. It was a fantastic tournament from all of the team, we exceeded all expectations, managing to beat Italy 3-0 was a highlight. We took the tournament step by step but unfortunately, we lost the final to Spain 2-0. They were just better than us on the day, but the tournament and the experience was fantastic.” It may have ended in defeat for him this time, but I’m sure there will be many more opportunities for Gonçalo to represent Portugal at a tournament in the future.
At just 18, he is very much an investment in the future from West Ham but has already featured 3 times for the U23 side, who sit top of the PL2 Division 2 Table and is training with the first-team squad.
Adjusting to playing football, whether it be in training or on matchday, in a different country can be difficult, but it is something that Gonçalo seems to be enjoying.
“Everything is faster in England, you have to think faster“
“The biggest difference between Portugal and England is that in England everything is faster, you have to think faster and of course another difference is the quality of the players. This team (West Ham) has so much balance, every single player has so much quality and through training everyday with these good players at a high intensity, it makes you better as a player.”
Gonçalo signed on a 5-year deal, with an option for an extra year, meaning that at 18 years old, time is firmly on his side.
“I take my career day by day; I try not to set numerical goals or targets but instead aim to simply become a better player today than I was yesterday. Of course, the long-term goal is to play every week for West Ham, that is what I’m working towards but I know I have a lot to improve on. I am improving every day working with the West Ham centre-backs, they are helping me a lot, I want to continue to improve and I want to continue to push hard every day for this club.”
Through meeting Gonçalo and listening to him talk about football, it was clear to me that he is incredibly grounded, driven and aware of what he needs to do in order to achieve these long-term goals he has. With his talent, coupled with his mentality, I’m sure it will not be long before we see Gonçalo pull on the famous claret and blue of West Ham’s senior side.
By Aaron Barton for Próxima Jornada
(A special thank you to Gonçalo Cardoso, Alistair Cliffe and all of the team at West Ham’s Rush Green training complex)