Bruno Alves headlines squad revolution

Rangers’ Manager Pedro Caixinha has been a busy man so far this close season, bringing eight new players to the club as he attempts to shape the team into an outfit which can better last season’s third-placed finish behind champions Celtic and second-placed Aberdeen.

The indications are that he’s not yet finished adding new blood to the light blues’ squad, but after  eight signings, it’s worth a look at the new arrivals and surmising as to what sort of impact they are likely to have on the team’s fortunes when the big kick-off arrives.

In May I wrote that Caixinha’s entry into the transfer market in the summer was beyond crucial in order to improve a side that finished 39 points behind Celtic (scoring 50 fewer goals), and nine points behind Aberdeen. This much was obvious.

Caixinhas's contacts, new contracts

I also opined that Caixinha’s nationality and his having managed in Mexico meant that players from leagues in Portugal and Mexico may well form the majority of the new arrivals in Govan. Although this prediction, too, didn’t require any particularly esoteric insight, it proved to be correct nonetheless: of the eight signings made thus far, four are Portuguese, and two are Mexican. Of the other two, one is a Scot, and the two North American signings are joined by a South American – a Colombian.

So what has Caixinha turned up? Of the eight new signings, one name immediately leaps off the page – Bruno Alves – the Portuguese legend with 92 caps for his country and 11 goals, a significant scoring contribution for a centre-half. Caixinha signed the Porto legend from Italian Serie A side Cagliari for an undisclosed fee, rumoured to be in the region of €600,000.

Upon Alves’ signing a two-year deal, Caixinha announced his intention to “build the defence around [Alves]”. In his pomp, I think it would be fair to describe Alves as a world-class player, but he’s going to be 36 in November and I question this signing purely based on his age. Alves may currently be playing (well) in the Confederations Cup in Russia as I write this, but I’d be prepared to wager that he will not be returning to Russia for next year’s World Cup, assuming Portugal qualify.

When Arsene Wenger brought Sol Campbell to Arsenal as his defensive lynchpin, he was a decade younger than Alves is now, and Campbell’s time at the Gunners was up when he was 31. Likewise, when Alex Ferguson signed Rio Ferdinand for the same role, he departed Old Trafford 12 trophy-laden years later and he was still a few weeks younger than Alves is on his arrival at Ibrox.

The obvious point is that Alves, for all his skill, is not going to get any faster. Au contraire, in fact. So would it be too unkind to describe Alves as a world-class player in the past tense? It will certainly be fascinating to see how Alves deals with the swifter players in the SPFL. Perhaps his reading of the game and ability to marshal a defence will be enough. Anyone interested in Scottish football – and the progress of Portuguese players abroad – are going to be mighty curious to see how it pans out.

The three other Portuguese arrivals are far less storied than Alves. Another centre-half, Fábio Cardoso, arrives from Vitória Setúbal after 23 games and just one year played of a four-year deal signed with the Bomfin club. Another signing for an undisclosed fee, although a figure of c.€200,000 has circulated as the price of his services. The modest fee one-quarter of the way into his deal does beg the question why he was so easily parted from his contract? Nevertheless, aged 23, Cardoso has penned a three-year deal. One imagines that in Caixinha’s ideal world, he’s going to learn from playing alongside Alves.

Winger Daniel Candeias arrives after three years as a Benfica player, but without having played for the Lisbon side, instead spending the entirety of his tenure on loan, variously, at: 1. FC Nürnberg; (Germany); Granada (Spain); Metz (France), and Alanyaspor (Turkey). The 29-year-old joins Rangers on a two-year contract at a cost of €800,000. I’ll be honest and say I know nothing about him.

The final member of the Portuguese quartet arriving in Glasgow is forward player Dalcio, on a season-long loan from Benfica B. His 50 league games at the Seixal outfit have returned… two goals. Again, he’s a mystery to me and the entire Scottish press corps as well it would seem. That goals to games ratio doesn’t impress, but stats don’t win football games.

Mexican internationals brought on board

From Mexico, 27-year-old international midfielder (19 caps, two goals) Carlos Alberto Peña has penned a three-year deal on a free transfer from Guadalajara, and his 28-year-old compatriot Eduardo Herrera, a striker, also signed a deal of the same duration on the same day as Peña. Herrera, also an international, has three goals from his nine appearances for Mexico, but has only one cap to his name since 2015, so is not currently in the plans of national manager Juan Carlos Osorio. Herrera’s previous club UNAM banked €1.7m for the player’s Atlantic crossing.

21-year-old Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos arrives from HJK in Finland on a three-year deal at a cost of €1.15m. His scoring record in Finland is eye-catching: 62 games in two years at HJK returned 46 goals but, with respect, the Finnish league is ranked 36th by UEFA, behind Iceland, Moldova and Liechtenstein.

The octet of new boys acquired thus far is completed by a more prosaic signing, that of 25-year-old defensive midfielder Ryan Jack who also penned a three-year deal on a free from Aberdeen, having played nearly 250 games for the Dons. He’s a composed player with excellent positional sense, an unfussy style and good distribution.

So there we have it. The thick end of an outfield team arrives for a collection – Herrera apart – of relatively modest fees and frees. The highest profile acquisition, by far, is that of Alves, but –  for this writer at least – his age is an issue and will obviously become more so as his two-year deal progresses. I must confess, I am absolutely fascinated to see how he will fare at Ibrox. Scottish football may not be the most technically blessed league in Europe, but it’s fast – often very fast – and Caixinha’s choice of a very classy but ageing centre-half to underpin his defence is a gamble, no doubt.

Jack aside, the new boys are quite the cosmopolitan gathering. The $64,000 question, however, is are they any good in general and are they going to excel in Scotland in particular? As July nears, at least we’re not going to have to wait long for an answer.

The eight new players brings the size of Rangers’ first-team squad to 35, and if Caixinha’s wallet is not yet closed then that number will increase unless, of course, players are shipped out. This is definitely a priority for Rangers, whose financial health (or lack of therein) is the elephant in the room. The club recently sold former Preston North End striker Joe Garner to Ipswich Town for an alleged £1m, having allegedly paid £1.8m for him some ten months previously.

The need to trim

Both of these fees are complete fantasy, and everyone knows it (including the journalists who reported the above figures) but that’s not particularly relevant at this time. What is relevant is that Garner looked to be a very poor player, and Rangers have done well to get rid of one of the highest earners at the club.

Simple income v. expenditure arithmetic tells us that Garner needs to be the first of a decent number of sub-standard players to leave Ibrox, and if there’s one thing that Rangers have a surfeit of, it’s sub-standard players. By my reckoning, Rangers can afford to maintain a first-team squad of 30 experienced professionals at the very most, so even if Caixinha’s recruitment is over for the summer, they are still going to have to lose about five players – minimum.

At the conclusion of last season, Rangers compiled and distributed widely a list of their first-team squad players who were available for the right price (not the same thing at all as transfer-listing them) and that list extended to virtually every player within the squad. Some of the numbers corresponding to the players were, frankly, delusional. Apparently they would be prepared to let defender James Tavernier go for £800,000 – four times what they paid for him.

One can only conclude that an extra zero was added to this figure in error. Tavernier’s athleticism is well above average but his reading of the game is abysmal. His positioning is equally poor, as is his distribution, and he’s not even particularly effective in the tackle. He does have a decent cross in his locker, but defenders need to be able to defend. If the Tavernier valuation is anything to go by (assuming it’s not a mistake) then Rangers need to give their collective heads a shake in terms of valuations of poor players on significant wages if they want them off the books. Tavernier is but one example; there are at least half-a-dozen other players contracted for more than 12 months at Ibrox that Rangers should be ecstatic to get rid of on free transfers.

To conclude, Rangers need to trim their squad significantly and Caixinha’s exotic new troupe needs to hit the ground running. Only then can they think of challenging Aberdeen for a runners-up spot next season. Any talk of title challenges to Celtic are unrealistic and will remain so for a number of years unless the Ibrox club can find €50m in a cupboard somewhere.

I think everyone in Scottish football shares my anticipation and excitement for the coming season. Has Caixinha unearthed gold for the price of silver? With the number of players Caixinha has already brought in, a runners-up spot is the bare minimum return required by his paymasters for the coming season. If he and his team don’t achieve that, it’s hard to see him remaining at Ibrox.

by John Hunt (Twitter: @johnhunt1892)

 

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  • Enjoyed the read. It appears to me that Scottish football is in a sad state of affairs and maybe getting worse, but not overly unpredictable.

    Assuming Portugal qualify, I think it is an absolute certainty that Bruno Alves returns to Russia for next year’s World Cup. He may not play many minutes, but he will be there.

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  • Guest - John Hunt

    Matthew,

    Scottish football isn't getting any worse. If anything - on a domestic level at least - the product is improving slightly as teams finally come to terms with the financial realities of the modern game. This has not translated itself into an improvement of the national side (not that I care - I'm English) for a variety of reasons.

    As for Alves and WC2018 - one of us will get the chance to say 'I told you so' this time next year!

    Thanks for reading.

    John

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  • Tom/John,

    Typo on Candelas, its Daniel [b]Candeias[/b].

    He was/is a very good technical player with big upside. Unfortunately he was 1 of the 100 or so Portuguese players royally shafted through the JJ anti-Portuguese tenure at Benfica. They pretty much bought Candeias to stop him from beating him when they played Nacional, then they froze him out. Rangers fans can look at Pizzi, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo as others who rose above the JJ crusade. If Candeias end up half of the player those three are they got a steal.

    Glad to see him back.

    from Burlington, ON, Canada
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  • Thanks Val. Typo rectified. You're right. He was excellent at Nacional over a number of seasons. Let's see if he can recover that form in Scotland.

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  • Guest - BearwithmeUSA

    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Bear in exlie here. Read this Hunt guy in the Scottish Sun online before and it's the usual tabloid nonsense (thought he was a Celtic fan!) but this is a very smooth read - he must hate having to churn out tabloid crap when he can write like this!

    from Jacksonville, FL, USA
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  • I enjoyed the article, and generally love learning more about other leagues. I already know a bit about the SPL, including the history behind Celtic/Rangers, Alex Ferguson & Aberdeen, and a few other tidbits.

    Makes sense Caixinha would bring players from leagues he is familiar with.

    The only thing I don't understand (and I appreciate the skillful writing of Mr Hunt), is the need to bring random comparisons from the Premier League to measure against Bruno Alves. Rangers want short term success, so based on this, making a player of Alves' caliber the lynchpin makes sense.

    If anyone watched the Portugal games in the Confederations Cup where Alves played, they will have seen that he was never really beaten or let for dead. He was never Usain Bolt, but he's also no slouch. His speed is something that has never really changed throughout his career, and as he's a CB, not a wingback, there's no reason to believe we will see a drastic change in his pace.

    Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand were great defenders. Fabio Canavaro was also great, and at 33-34, the heart of an Italian national team that won a World Cup. Paolo Maldini was 41 when he retired, and still at the top of his game. He even played left back in the last few years. What I am saying is, athletes of today are able to better extend their form and age is relatively less of a factor.

    That aside, I enjoyed the article and will tune in to watch the derby's between the two big boys.

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  • Guest - John Hunt

    Chris,

    You make a valid point about Alves. My concern is that the speed of the SPFL might trouble him. However, there are a lot of high balls which will be meat and drink to him. As I said - twice - I am genuinely curious to see how the new boys fare at Rangers, especially Alves. I'm quite happy to e proved wrong in the case of the latter.

    Anyway, don't just watch the Derby! Rangers v. Aberdeen, Hibs and Hearts are all games worth a look and this other aforementioned trio are games that often have a real 'edge' to them. Rangers v. Celtic is going to be interesting, for sure, with the Parkhead club winning five games from the six they played against Rangers last term. In two of these games - the 5-1 spankings that bookended the season, Celtic were pulling Rangers' defence all over the place. Sr. Alves has his work cut out for him, that much is certain.

    Thanks for the compliment.

    John

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  • You are quite welcome. I will try to check those games as suggested as well. I tend to watch the BPL, Portuguese league and sometimes German and Spanish league. I think the last two I will rotate, as both are fun, but I've fallen out of seeing Serie A. I need to diversify a bit more and seeing a few SPL games would help.

    Heck, the league has one of my favourite factors; rainy and gloomy weather. I know that sounds sarcastic but it isn't; I genuinely enjoy the drama of a game where rain is hitting the pitch, you can see players struggle to keep warm and mistakes can be more commonplace.

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