Suburban fields to European giants in six weeks

Australian striker Anthony Carter has heard the age-old football adage that you never know who is watching, but even then he didn't expect there to be anyone of note when his club Trofense played Coimbroes in the third tier of Portuguese football last month. There appeared to be only a few hundred in the crowd, comprising mostly families, friends and junior players of Coimbroes where the only grandstand at the Silva Matos Park holds only 400 spectators and wasn't full that day.

However, sitting among those in the southern industrial suburbs of Porto was a scout of the country's largest club, Benfica, who watched Carter score two individual goals in Trofense's 4-1 win. They liked what they saw in the towering 23-year-old centre-forward, who had amassed a ratio of a goal in every other game over the last two seasons in Portugal, and quickly made a call to his agent and employers.

"I scored a couple of goals and that got me in the newspapers. After that I scored again and I got a call from my agent telling me Benfica was interested in me," Carter said. "I trust him a lot because he's the one who brought me here - we've got a very good relationship - but when he told me, I still didn't really take it in."

It wasn't the first time a club from the top division tried to sign Carter who was denied a chance to move to the top tier last January in the transfer window after Trofense slapped a high asking price for his services, valuing him at about $300,000. To some in Portugal, that was deemed a considerable fee for a relatively unknown Australia forward. However, Benfica had no hesitation in agreeing to their asking price for Carter, quickly concluding negotiations with Trofense before Christmas.

"I thought it was amazing but I didn't believe it until I saw it. Then all of a sudden, it got really serious. First the offer, then it came out in the press," he said.

Immediately after settling on the transfer fee of $300,000, they met with Carter and his agent in Braga to discuss personal terms and it didn't take long for him to take up the offer to move to the Estadio da Luz, agreeing to personal terms in principle. Once senior officials from Benfica return to Portugal after the holiday break, that deal is set to be formalised on January 3, 2018, when Carter makes the jump from local fields in the third tier of Portuguese football to one of world football's most recognisable clubs.

"The president of Benfica has organised with my agent for me to go there on the third of January and sign the papers. Today we got the green light that the clubs have agreed, everything is OK and I have to come on the third to finalise the deal," he said.

With a deal all but done, Carter will move to the Lisbon giants early in the new year and train alongside the likes of Brazilian national team players Jonas and Gabriel Barbosa, Argentinian international Eduardo Salvio and Portuguese star Eliseu. It will be the major break through for the man from Melbourne who moved to Europe when he was 16, signing with Italian club Vicenza, before moving to Parma's youth team and then spending three years in Romania with Cluj before dropping down divisions in Portugal to get game time.

In the weeks immediately following his arrival at Benfica, Carter will probably have to earn his place in the first team on the back of his performances with their B team but a long-term deal for the quick, powerful and clinical young forward shows the high hopes Benfica have for his future.

"I am really shocked, I can't believe it all. When I first came [to Portugal] my agent told me our goal was to get into Benfica. I just thought I would go about my game and hopefully things will come," he said. "Basically they just saw a lot of potential in me. They're willing to give me the opportunity to be part of the club. They told me that I have a lot of potential to grow into something."

This story Suburban fields to European giants in six weeks first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.