AS Wolves thumped Armenian minnows FC Pyunik 4-0 last Thursday to set-up an eye-catching Europa League tie with Torino, a ball-playing centre-half caught the eye.
Max Kilman is a bit late to the game, making his bow at the age of 21 as a sub against Fulham last season.
But the defender’s ascent to the Premier League, via starring for England’s national team in the futsal world and then playing non-league football for Maidenhead United, is astonishing.
Even his hard-to-please boss Nuno Espírito Santo can’t help but wax lyrical about his newish recruit.
“Max is 100 per cent integrated into the (first team) squad… I just see him as a very good football player, a centre-half with quality,” Santo revealed back in April.
“He’s big, aggressive. He has to improve like all young players, but we’re really, really happy with Max.”
When Kilman was a teen, he aspired to play top-flight football and was on Fulham’s books.
However, things didn’t work out for the West Londoner with the Cottagers, and when he was released he had to find a way to fuel his passion for the game.
At 14 he was walking in his local park when he saw two lads playing futsal, and asked if he could join in.
Impressed by his skills, they invited their new pal to a training session at London Genesis.
“I just really enjoyed myself and kept going back every week as I gradually grew into it with playing more and more futsal,” he told the FA’s website.
Futsal is a bit like five-a-side, except there are no walls, kick ins are used instead, and back passes are restricted.
In Brazil and Spain it’s incredibly popular – most notably Philippe Coutinho used the game to hone his skills before he was scouted by Vasco da Gama.
FUTSAL WAS HIS PATHWAY
The same applies for Kilman, who utilised futsal as a pathway to making it in the 11-a-side game.
“Max didn’t do futsal within a football environment, he did futsal within a futsal environment,” England futsal coach Michael Skubala told Sky Sports.
“That is to say, he had come out of the professional football system and was in the futsal system being coached by futsal coaches.
“His journey is quite unique in England.”
Despite his success with the Three Lions futsal team, Kilman did not give up hope on a professional career.
From 2015 he began training at Maidenhead United, with the hope he’ll be plucked from non-league obscurity.
“Max was clever because he knew what he was doing and he found a way of doing both,” Skubala said.
“His schedule meant he was effectively training full-time either for his futsal club or for Maidenhead.
“If you think about it, by twin-tracking, he was getting all of these elements and he was doing it for years. He used futsal to make him a better footballer.”
MARLOW WAS THE MAKING OF HIM
In 2016, Kilman got a rude awakening on loan at Marlow.
The physicality of the seventh tier was a far cry from the technical futsal world he was accustomed to.
“I think we were probably the right place at the right time for him,” Marlow’s long-serving manager Mark Bartley revealed.
“He clearly had technical ability given his futsal background but we really wanted to help him develop. There were one or two positioning things but he always had a great attitude and he is a quick learner. He settled in quickly.”
Last summer, Wolves took a gamble on 6ft 5in Kilman – paying Maidenhead an undisclosed sum for his services.
Unfortunately, something had to give. After earning 25 caps for England playing futsal, he had to take a hiatus from the sport.
He said: “I can’t play for England at futsal anymore, but I still speak to my old team-mates and I’m pretty close with them, so will always see how they’re doing with their clubs and follow them with England and wish them a bright future.”
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But he still gets to show off his futsal skills with his Wolves teammates, albeit on a Teqball table.
His partner in training is Diogo Jota, who grew up in Porto – incidentally where the best futsal player in the world, Ricardinho, was idolised.
Surrounded by so many skilful players, it seems Kilman is definitely in the right place to prosper, and his teammates certainly appreciate him.