Needless to say, Bruno Alves has got a strong pedigree. He’s spent he majority of his career at Porto before a move to Zenit St Petersburg for a near £20million fee, and he’s played regularly in Italy’s top flight over the past 12 months. If nothing else, it’s certainly an upgrade on Danny Wilson and Rob Kiernan.
Aside from a penchant for making some absolutely wild challenges (there’s literally a YouTube video entitled BRUNO ALVES THE KILLER - which is exclusively footage of the player trying to remove his opponent’s limbs with his fee) he’s exactly the type of defender Rangers need right now.
Last season the Light Blues really struggled from set-pieces, conceding 15 times over the course of the season (according to football analyst Dougie Wright) and they weren’t much better at cross balls. In Serie A last term, Alves finished with the second highest percentage of aerial duels won.
There was a reason some fans took to David Bates at the tail end of last season despite the defender appearing very raw. He was a centre-back who could head the ball and concentrated on defending first and foremost. Alves should bring a more polished and experienced version of that, while being much more technically sound on the football, which will help Rangers going forward as they’ll have someone adept at launching attacks from the back.
Traditionally there’s been a degree of danger with regards to bringing big name players into Scottish football when they’re well into their 30s. Some fail to treat the league with the respect it deserves; others can’t handle the physical demands of our up-and-at-them style of play. Jérôme Rothen, Ian Wright and Roy Keane are just three of many noted examples from through the years.
Rangers fans themselves will know the risk. Only last season Joey Barton came in promising the world, and instead left having contributed little other than alienating his team-mates and manager in an epic dressing room rant. He may have turned it around eventually, but from what we saw of his opening matches, he didn’t have the legs to cover the ground required in Mark Warburton’s 4-3-3 formation.
That’s where this transfer will ultimately succeed or fail. How does Pedro Caixinha plan on using Alves? If he insists on a high line then he’ll expose the player’s lack of pace. If he doesn’t, and the early indications of Caixinha’s preferred gameplan are he won’t, then he’ll give the player a much greater chance of having a positive impact. Getting in a centre-back partner who is an improvement on what Rangers already have would also help.
The fact that he’s a centre-back should also appease any fears. As we’ve seen from recent seasons in Scottish football, ageing centre-backs tend to do better than ageing attacking players. Clint Hill and Kolo Toure both equipped themselves well last season. The latter may have dropped off the face of the earth, but a reason for that would have been Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers wanting to utilise the defenders at the club with a long-term future. Then there’s the likes of Russell Anderson and David Weir, both of whom came back to Scotland and excelled despite being into their 30s. Philippe Senderos may be looked upon as an exception, but no-one had high hopes for him to begin with.
There’s a lot to be done for Rangers to get closer to Celtic, if such a thing will be possible with the champions ready to spend handsomely in the window, so it’s too early to start talking about Alves (or Ryan Jack or Carlos Pena) significantly closing “the gap”. What these signings do indicate is that next season’s Rangers will be a better version of this one. And, for now, that’s all the fans can realistically ask for.