There is the possibility that seven of Pedro Caixinha’s starting line-up will be experiencing the unique Glasgow square go for the first time next weekend. For Portuguese defender Fabio Cardoso, the plunge into the unknown runs deeper.
“I have never played in a derby; not a real derby,” said the £1.3m buy from Vitoria Setubal. “I did all my formation with Benfica and I played a lot of derbies at that level. But I went on loan at 17 to play first-team football [with Paços de Ferreira] but the derbies are only for the big teams. This will be my first derby.”
It is often said that any other derby experience doesn’t even prepare players for the chaos and cacophony when Glasgow’s two biggest draws do battle. With faltering league form despite some promising elements to their play – shown again by the 2-2 draw away to Partick Thistle on Friday – it could make the fearsome fixture a fraught experience for derby debutants expected to feature in the home starting line-up. Into that bracket come Bruno Alves, below, Alfredo Morelos, Daniel Candeias, Graeme Dorrans, Ryan Jack and Declan John, as well as Cardoso himself. Other recent arrivals Carlos Pena and Dalcio could also feature.
Cardoso may lack first-hand knowledge but the refined and affable 23-year-old appears to have a decent grasp of what he will be immersing himself in.
“It’s a massive show, unbelievable, it’s from another world,” he said. “It’s a really big, big derby that is beautiful for football. Football needs more games like this – the passion the people of Scotland show and our supporters give to us.”
Cardoso has no problem with the price tag for that passion. He expects to be backed by “amazing Rangers supporters because we have that every time we play at home”. He knows too they will seek nothing less than their team being competitive against Celtic, even if that proved beyond them last season, the teams’ last meeting an embarrassing 5-1 thumping that left the Ibrox crowd apoplectic. Reputations are made and broken in this derby, but Cardoso does not consider that it makes for a game with added pressure.
“It’s our life,” he said. “We know that football is moments – one day you are OK, the other you are not OK. We need that pressure. When the supporters support like they do, they have [the right] to command, to expect big things from us. They give us their all and have the right to expect the same.”
Cardoso is well aware how much Rangers fell short of this threshold in the club’s last outing against Brendan Rodgers’ side. “I saw that game, and it’s football. Celtic score first and Rangers lose the head and they don’t control the game, and they take their opportunities. That is football. It’s like us against Partick. If losing or winning, we have to be calm and believe in ourselves to control and kill the game in the right moments.”
The centre-back is certain that he will retain his composure and remain committed to noble football principles in an arena that has caused even the most mild-mannered players to lose the plot.
“I am very calm,” Cardoso said. “I do everything and go towards every ball like it’s my last ball but I’m calm and respect the other players I play against. I never go to hurt them. Of course there are red cards and in every game that is a possibility, but it is not my purpose to injure some player.”
Cardoso wants to be an accomplished footballer. In the desire to build towards that, he considers it is not just the opportunity to forge an off-field relationship with veteran fellow national and boyhood idol Alves that makes Rangers a perfect home for him.
“Bruno is one of the best centre-backs of my country. A guy who has a lot of experience and played around the world in big teams. Playing in the national team he is a champion of Europe. I try to learn with him a lot, and he has helped me, but I try to learn with everybody. I learn with the midfielders, I learn with any of the other centre-backs. David [Bates], he is young but I learn a lot with him. Ross [Lyon], the captain of the under-21 team, is a very good player and I learn with him. Football is learning. When you think you know everything, things go wrong. Even Bruno is learning. It is normal. Yes, of course, it is an honour to play with Bruno. He is a football player I watched on TV playing with Porto, one of the biggest teams in Portugal. I am very happy to play with Bruno and a massive club like Rangers.”