Rangers’ capture of Bruno Alves last summer was met with almost universal praise. One year later he leaves the club having failed to live up to his lofty reputation. Craig Fowler looks at the reasons why.
“I have no doubt Bruno will do well in Scotland,” said Marco Borriello in June 2017.
The former Italian international striker had just completed a season in Serie A with the imposing centre-back, seeing him not only excel in the league once considered the world’s best but also in training each and every day.
Sure, Alves was approaching his 36th birthday, but this wasn’t some has-been looking for their last paycheck before retirement.
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He had thrived at Cagliari and was still involved regularly in the Portuguese national team.
Just 12 months after helping Fernando Santos’ side to European Championship glory in 2016 Alves was on Confederations Cup duty with his country when his new club were papped out of the Europa League by Progres Niederkorn.
He may not have matched up to the player that was once the subject of a €22 million transfer between Porto and Zenit St Petersburg, but it seemed a formality that he would do well in the Scottish Premiership.
While the commanding defender wasn’t a disaster in Scotland, it’s safe to say his 13 months were underwhelming and didn’t come close to justifying the reported £28,000 wage packet he was picking up every week.
Now that he’s left for Parma it’s the perfect time to examine the reasons why.
Alves had his moments in a Rangers top. His display in the second half against Hibs in the 2-1 win at Easter Road shortly before Christmas encouraged exaggerated hyberbole like “heroic” and “warrior”, though even this admittedly impressive performance came after a first-half showing where Alves was very much a culprit as Graeme Murty’s side appeared all at sea as they tried to keep pace with a dynamic Hibs attack.
After Josh Windass and Alfredo Morelos knocked Hibs flat with a one-two sucker punch right before the break, Rangers were able to sit back, cover the gaps and soak up the pressure.
The home side were left to whip balls into the penalty area, which Alves gobbled up time and again.
This was the perfect microcosm for his time on the field at Rangers. He could be relied on to win headers (eventually leading the league in percentage of aerial duels won) and wasn’t bad with the ball at his feet, but would often struggle against nippier and more elusive attackers.
Injuries didn’t help. At his advancing age he’s always going to be at a disadvantage compared with his opponents, some of whom were over 10 years his junior.
In Italy he redressed the balance by working harder than anyone else, being the “the first to come in to training, and the last one to leave” according to Massimo Rastelli, his former boss.
But there’s only so much you can do when recuperating from a knee injury.
His team-mates wouldn’t have been much help either. Pedro Caixinha envisioned a perfect partnership where the veteran Alves would teach and help develop countryman Fabio Cardoso.
The 23-year-old was a highly-rated prospect in his homeland, but couldn’t turn it on in Scotland after a £1.3m move from Vitória Setúbal.
The centre-back was cool in possession but lacked the physical qualities to dominate his Premiership opponents and it quickly became apparent he wasn’t up to the task.
After that it was a rolling cast at centre-back. Alves contributed with his injury situation, but it couldn’t have been easy to find a new partner just about every time he returned.
Ross McCrorie, David Bates, Danny Wilson and January signing Russell Martin all spent time in the heart of the defence.
In hindsight, it’s no surprise Rangers went into the season looking to fix their leaky back-line and ended up conceding six more league goals than they had the previous campaign.
Of course, defending is a team effort and the whole squad/club being something of a shambles wouldn’t have helped either. All in all, Alves wasn’t placed in the right situation to thrive.
But that’s the point I’m trying to make. He wasn’t given the best situation but this wasn’t even a consideration when the signing was made.
It was the same for Joey Barton the year before and it’ll be the same for another big name signing in the future.
We just assume they’re going to be great because they’re a familiar face from the nights where we spend time watching football that isn’t our own; football that is glamorous, rich and full of world class talent.
Our league used to be given a kicking at every opportunity, including by those who watch it frequently.
That may be slowly turning but we still expect our boys to be made to look like they’re playing in a glorified pub league when someone with Champions League or Premier League pedigree walks up to the gates.
Bruno Alves is the latest reminder that it’s far from the case. It’s about time we remembered that.