Rangers are reportedly closing in on a deal to sign the Portuguese defender from Vitória Setúbal for around £1.3million. Craig Fowler has been researching the player’s strengths and weaknesses.
It is this writer’s opinion that the best partnerships in football feature two players who compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s why little-and-large forward duos used to be so prevalent. It may even explain the modern-day split between attacking and defensive centre-midfielders, as managers naturally drifted towards having one player with instincts to cause damage in and around the penalty area, and another with the instincts to cause damage to his opponents.
Perhaps most importantly of all, you need this ying and yang with centre-backs. Neither Ash Taylor nor Mark Reynolds, in terms of individual performance, have performed particularly well for Aberdeen over the past two seasons, and yet as a partnership they tended to play above their level. That was probably because Taylor was a big, hulking centre-back who was terrific in the air, but not the fastest or most composed on the football, while Reynolds was much slighter, quicker defender who could be relied upon to take the ball out of defence without making a catastrophic error.
Of course, you’d rather have two players alongside each other who can do everything. Unfortunately, these players do not exist in Scottish football.
Rangers already have one half of next season’s centre-back partnership in Bruno Alves, and they appear to be closing in on the other half in the form of Fabio Cardoso. The 23-year-old is a graduate of Benfica’s academy who moved to Vitória de Setúbal last summer in search of first-team football, signing a four-year deal. After establishing himself in the first-team around October, he would go on to play 23 times in the Primeira Liga. Largely he impressed and is looked upon as an intriguing prospect within Portuguese football.
Partnering him with Alves should work very well for Cardoso’s development. In many ways, they do tend to complement each other. Alves is a dominant centre-back who’s excellent at winning aerial battles, and isn’t afraid to tear into challenges. He’s looked upon as a fiery character, but does have great experience having featured at the highest level in Portugal, Russia and Italy, as well as on the international stage with Portugal.
Cardoso is much more mild-mannered in comparison. He’s not particularly robust in the tackle or in the air. He won only 53.18 per cent of his aerial duels in Portugal’s top flight last season (61st among all defenders who spent time at centre-back). Instead, he looks to sniff out danger with his anticipation and positioning, which has been widely complimented on.
Having played for Paços Ferreira for two years in the Portuguese top tier while on loan from Benfica, he does have a great deal of experience for his age, but he’s still got a lot to learn. Alves will certainly be the Alpha-male in this pairing, and will look to guide his younger partner throughout games.
What the both have in common is an ability to pass the ball out from the back, a skill shared by many centre backs that arrive from the continent. This isn’t as key to Rangers as it would have been under Mark Warburton, where the central defenders were instructed to split out wide and receive the ball from the goalkeeper (Every. Single. Time.) but it still helps to have centre-backs comfortable on the football when you’re expecting to be the side dominating possession.
Another trait they have in common, which could become an issue, is a lack of pace. Cardoso isn’t the slowest of centre-backs, and would probably beat Alves in a race, but he doesn’t have great recovery pace either. A nimble, intelligent striker capable of making darting runs in behind could cause Rangers some problems. To counteract, Pedro Caixinha should look to play a deeper back-line to protect the duo.