The Bolton News:

THE big man at the back has got a bigger name – and more responsibility for Wanderers.

Officially now listed as Ricardo Almeida Santos by his club, the 6ft 5ins centre-back has a captain’s armband to go with his impressive list of achievements since arriving at the UniBol.

Sweeping the club’s awards board last season after promotion and making the PFA’s Team of the Year for League Two, Santos now faces a challenge to maintain his own consistency with the added pressures of being a leader for the team.

Antoni Sarcevic’s abrupt departure at the end of last week could very easily have had a destabilising effect on the dressing room, where the midfielder’s voice had been among the strongest for the last 18 months.

But whereas the club were already planning for life after Sarcevic next summer, Ian Evatt’s plan to turn Santos into a genuine Championship class defender is only part way through.

Many supporters voiced their surprise that Eoin Doyle was not offered the captain’s role after Sarcevic’s exit to Stockport County – and that decision would not have been taken lightly by the Wanderers staff.

Doyle is without doubt one of the big personalities but the decision to keep him as vice-captain was made at a time when he is going through his longest goal drought since signing for the club. Whether extra responsibility would have been an unnecessary weight at this point in time is up for debate.

It is quite the opposite situation for Santos, the hulking 26-year-old who, like Doyle, made himself a fan-favourite as one of the lynchpins of Evatt’s promotion winning side last season.

If anything, Evatt has been looking for a way to hang extra leadership responsibilities on his defender’s shoulders. Santos was dominant in League Two but, akin to the rest of the side since promotion, has had a couple of mis-steps since stepping up a level.

Evatt hopes that by adding Santos to a storied list of Bolton Wanderers club captains he can bring an extra level of consistency and focus, which can elevate the physically-imposing centre-back to the next level.

Already, we have seen examples of Santos revelling in the role. Take a look at the replay of Kieran Lee’s second goal – celebrated wildly by the players involved, who were then ushered back quickly to the centre circle by their captain with a reminder that a winning goal could still be found.

Santos has not shown many signs of being a demonstrative verbal leader in a way, for example, a Kevin Nolan or Jay Spearing had for Bolton in the past. But he has led by example and if extra responsibility can now coax out more of his character on the pitch, it could prove to be a happy coincidence for Bolton.

There is no question of the esteem in which the players hold Santos, nor their estimation that he can – and will – play at a higher level of football.

“I said last year that he was the best player in League Two,” said Alex Baptiste, a defender who has played in every division of the professional game told The Bolton News earlier this year. “And this year I think he can be the best in League One.

“He has everything you need – power, pace, good in the air, can read the game – and if I can lend him a little word of experience here and there, I’ve done my job.”

Santos was brought up in East London but born in Almada, Portugal, and it was a recent reminder from his family which brought about a change in the paperwork at Bolton, where ‘Almeida’ is now proudly included.

Now boasting more than 200 appearances in the Football League and its cup competitions, the future looks bright for the former Barnet and Peterborough man. But just a few years ago, Wanderers fans may be surprised to know that Santos’s football career looked in jeopardy.

A bad bout of tendonitis in his knee left him able to train just once a week and considering his future.

“I was doing that for a while and my knee started hurting seriously,” he said. “I couldn’t even walk. I thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore’ so sat out and did rehab for eight or nine months.”

Santos earned a move to Wanderers after impressing Ian Evatt in a game against Barrow and after coming through a difficult start with the Whites, he now stands as the man tasked with leading the team back up the League One table.

It is not the first time he has worn the captain’s armband – and there were signs last season that Evatt was testing the water by giving him the role sporadically.

Speaking at the time, he said: “I’m so glad that people see me as a leader. I like to think I do that with my performances and my character around the building.

“I can chat to everyone and get on with everyone. I like to make everything enjoyable at the training ground and the first thing I do is put music on in the changing room just to make it fun. Football is a serious business but we all first and foremost got into the game because it was fun.”