It’s too soon to get rid, we’ve only just got a shirt that fits him!
As an ageing centre half with zero repute I felt compelled to write a case for the defence for Bruno Alves. This is a man with seven league winners’ medals from three different countries and a European Championships winner with 94 International Caps. He is also better than Rob Kiernan and Bilel Mohsni.
First of all when he arrived we knew who he was. That, in itself, is a good start. He’s never played for Wigan or Accrington Stanley, again, reassuring that he has played all his career at a decent level and that he’s not been plucked from obscurity. The season before we signed Alves he had just completed 36 games in Italy’s Serie A, hardly a Mickey Mouse league.
The stats guys got involved and teased us with data showing him to be one of the most accomplished long passers in the league and as expected, one of the most physical defenders. In other words – exactly what Rangers needed. But most importantly, he was Bruno Alves. He was a big name.
Alves missed pre-season because he was playing for Portugal in the Confederations Cup. He also missed the season defining Progres Niederkorn fixtures. He was becoming a more important and influential player without even pulling on the jersey.
Since signing for Rangers Alves has lost just twice. The Hibs debacle at Ibrox (Alves’ worst game for the club overshadowed by the most incredible refereeing performance of all time but that’s another story) and the relatively recent humiliation at the hands of St Johnstone, where he wasn’t at fault for any of the goals. For balance he’s also played in our best performances v Aberdeen and Hibs when he captained the side on both occasions.
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It appears that I am in the minority and have tried to see why people would be happy to see the back of him. He’s the most dominant defender in the air in the country and when you consider how most teams play against us that is an asset, defending set pieces used to be our biggest weakness, how many goals from corners and free kicks have we lost when Bruno has been playing? He is a competent long range passer which utilises the pace we now have in behind defences and also in wide areas.
So why do Rangers fans want shot of one of, if not the best defender in the league? Because Pedro signed him? Because he missed one Old Firm game through injury then got injured early in another? Or because fans expected clean sheets every week and to win every game? Because he is on a big wage? The answer probably lies between the four of these.
Personally, I think the problem hasn’t been Bruno, but the players around him. He can’t be everywhere. When crosses come from the left and land at the back post he is helpless to prevent goals other than constantly speaking to his team mates. Remember Declan John is one of the worst full backs at blocking crosses and we all know Tavernier’s biggest weakness. When he makes a clearing header but the midfield don’t pick up or press the second ball there is nothing he can do except hope he can block the shot, which he doesn’t shy away from. He is also helpless to prevent individual defensive errors such as losing a man or missing a clearance. Have a think, how many of our goals against come from scenarios like those I have mentioned?
I don’t get “the fear” at set pieces when Alves is playing, I’m not comfortable when he is out wide in a 1 v 1 but that also applied with Davie Weir and he did ok. Danny Wilson has been decent recently but for me Ross McCrorie and Bruno Alves has the potential to be an outstanding pairing. Both are comfortable in possession, McCrorie will do Alves’s running all day long and both can defend a penalty box. They complement each other and in European football on our budget are there really that many players better to coach, influence and develop McCrorie?
I think Russell Martin is a good, honest, solid professional footballer but I’ve seen him play every game for Scotland and he is not Bruno Alves. If he can organise a defence better and get those around him listening then it’s a job well done but until then I’ll be hoping Bruno fails his medical for a return to Serie A and we hang onto him a wee while longer!