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In 2004, a young Portuguese boy sat on his family’s bench in Lisbon and watched the national football team break English hearts during a European Championship penalty.
Sitting in the sun on Fulham’s training ground, Joao Palhinha took a moment to reflect on how far he’s come.
“I remember that day,” Palhinha told Sportsmail.
Joao Palhinha joined Fulham this summer after making the decision to leave Sporting Lisbon
Palhinha scored his first Premier League goal in Fulham’s recent 3-2 win over Brentford
‘I was only eight. It was a very special moment for us. The tournament was in our country and that match was in Lisbon.
“I remember our goalkeeper Ricardo taking off his gloves to save the big penalty (from Darius Vassell). Awesome. I never thought I’d be here in England right now. But I am a dreamer. I’ve always hoped.’
Now 27 years old and in his first English season after a £20million summer move from Sporting Lisbon, Palhinha – a tall and slender midfielder – is anticipating the most important months of his life and career.
He already has a Premier League goal, a header in the recent 3-2 home win over Brentford. On November 1, his wife Patricia is expecting the couple’s first child – a boy – and then, later that month, there will be a World Cup that Palhinha hopes to be part of. He already has 14 Portugal appearances and two goals.
The Portuguese star has been praised by Fulham fans for his hard-hitting combative style
The 27-year-old admits making it to the World Cup would be his childhood dream come true
“I have a dream to play in a World Cup, so this is one of the most important periods in my life,” he added.
‘The World Cup, a new club, the birth of my son. Everything happens at the same time! But it’s exciting. I’ve worked hard for this for a number of years.’
As he talks, Palhinha runs his fingers over the dark plaster on his left arm. Partially covered in a tattoo that includes the names of his parents and grandparents in Arabic, it is intended to protect a wrist broken during a pre-season match with Aston Villa.
“It’s painful,” he nods. “But it’s okay. I play with my feet, not with my hands.’
Brought to the club by coach Marco Silva to bolster the center of the Fulham midfield after promotion, Palhinha – meaning ‘little straw’ in Portuguese – sees himself as an aggressive presence in a team that is not short on attitude.
“You can really make tackles here and I love that,” he laughs. “It was one of the main things behind my decision to come – the style of the piece.
Palhinha broke his wrist during a pre-season game against Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa
The Fulham player has received three yellow cards in the Premier League this season
“In my head, I just want to play the ball with intensity. This is why I love the competition. Every game the players want to play the ball but with aggression and fairness.
“It’s one of the beautiful things about it. In Portugal I felt I couldn’t make a tackle. Sometimes it was difficult. Every touch was a yellow card. It’s completely different here.’
As the son of a car dealership owner, Palhinha’s career did not always run smoothly.
Palhinha was first noticed by Silva (when he was in charge of Sporting) and he was a teenager in the club’s B-team. The midfielder eventually broke through with the first team only to be abruptly sent to Braga in 2018 for two years.
When then-Sporting coach Jorge Jesus was told he needed to improve his attitude after a game against Porto, Palhinha now acknowledges that his career was at stake.
The former Sporting Lisbon player criticized his former club for not believing in him
“I knew I had to play and improve and show people my worth. Sporting didn’t believe in me, but I showed them they were wrong. Braga was a good choice, a good club. But I was also lucky.
“My coach at Braga, Ruben Amorim, went to Sporting and that was very important to me. When I returned to the club he was there and he knew me and loved my worth.
‘We have had two fantastic years together. I came back and won a league title in 2021 and three other trophies. If you do things right and have some talent, things can always happen. I have learned this in my career. Work hard and don’t give up.’
Palhinha lives in a flat in West London as he waits for his wife and son to join him after the World Cup. He thinks similar qualities could help Fulham skew predictions for this year’s season.
‘It’s a different life for me in Lisbon’, he explains. “When I have lunch with my wife, everyone knows me. Here it is different. After the last game against Brighton, I left the stadium on foot with my father and brother and took an Uber. I like that. Nobody really disappointed me.
Palhinha enjoys life in England and admits it’s a ‘different life’ than playing in Portugal
“But it’s different on the field. All teams are good here. Not just Arsenal or Liverpool we’ve already played. All.
‘The atmosphere is great. It’s like playing for Sporting against Benfica every week. It’s very special to me. The first thing my father said was that this was another level, another world. The people are singing my name. It’s so important to us. When we make a tackle, there is a roar. When I hear that, I get more energy.’
Fulham are in the first half of the ranking for tomorrow’s visit to Tottenham.
Silva’s team has only been beaten once – late at Arsenal – and their new midfielder has played all but two minutes of the club’s league games so far.
Fulham have started the new Premier League season well after his promotion
“We want to play impressive football and have a good season,” he says. “I think the club is building a very good team with a good spirit and that spirit is the most important thing we have.
“In football you can be very good tactically and technically, but if you don’t have the attitude, the passion and the spirit, it’s hard to do good things.
“We have this and it’s very important. People said before the season started that we wouldn’t do well. So we want to show everyone they’re wrong.’