AS the latest entrant to an exclusive club of Bolton Wanderers captains, Ricardo Santos sometimes has to pinch himself when reminded of the company he keeps.

Handed the armband in late October after Antoni Sarcevic’s abrupt departure, the big centre half appreciates some of the much more prestigious names who have occupied the post in years gone by.

From the great Nat Lofthouse to Kevin Nolan, Warwick Rimmer to Gudni Bergsson, the captain’s role has been filled by some of the club’s most treasured names.

Santos appreciates being in the same category, 18 months after he first arrived at the club from non-league Barnet.

“I don’t think I have really taken it all in yet,” he told The Bolton News. “People tell me about the players who have been captain at Bolton – but I don’t think it has really sunk in what a massive thing it really is. I just want to do well for this football club.

“Before I came here, even as a youngster, I’d watch Bolton and know they were a top-level club. They will always be a massive club no matter what league they are in, League One, League Two, Championship, whatever.

“Then you see players coming in for Geth’s game – Jay Jay Okocha just strolling in, being himself, bringing out all the skills again. And you think, yeah, this is the place I want to be.”

Wanderers came into the season under the captaincy of Mancunian Sarcevic, who had led the dressing room through last season’s highs and lows, ending with a promotion from League Two in which Santos was voted into the divisional team of the year.

At no point, however, did the midfielder look like the long-term solution for Bolton, and by the summer Evatt and his recruitment staff were already planning his successor.

The player, then in the last year of his contract, had put the feelers out for new employers as early as December 2020 – so when a flashpoint arrived at Plymouth in October, Stockport County emerged as a ready-made option.

Sarcevic had been annoyed at being benched against his former club, having played with a minor injury against Wigan Athletic a few days earlier.

The exact details of the bust-up, which came to a head after a 3-0 defeat at a rain-soaked Home Park, was ultimately kept in-house. But it was severe enough to see Sarcevic shunted to the exit door quicker than anyone had planned.

Santos was suspended for the Plymouth game but recalls driving into Lostock the following day to find that everything had changed.

“I didn’t travel to the Plymouth game so I had no idea what was going on,” he said.

“But I came into the training ground the next day and the gaffer wanted to meet with me, and he told me what was going on.

“He said ‘do you want to be captain of this football club?’ And I was like ‘yeah, of course, who would ever say no?’ “I think everyone was surprised. Nobody in the team really knew what was going on behind the scenes, and I know when I walked in that day I had no idea what was about to happen. Being pulled into the office and being told you can be captain, it takes you back a bit.”

Things have not always run smoothly for Santos since he took on the armband, with a run of illness and injuries contributing to a worrying slip in form pre-Christmas.

Form has since stabilised and victories against Ipswich and Shrewsbury have got Bolton moving back in the right direction.

Santos is convinced that Wanderers will play Championship football in the near future, if not this season, then the next.

“Since the gaffer came in, he got promotion in his first season. This year we want to do it again but no matter what happens it is heading in the right way. We will get there,” he said.

“You can get through rough patches if you stick together and I think we have done that, we did it last season too. A lot of good can come out of it.

“It is never boring – there’s always some drama!

“The thing I like most about this club is the togetherness. You feel it with the fans, you feel it with the lads on the training ground, then you still feel it with the board, or Sharon, it is just so friendly.

“I haven’t been here for too long but I love everything about being at this club.

“The gaffer giving me the captaincy was an absolute honour, leading such a big club.

“You have to enjoy your time in football and I enjoy playing for Bolton Wanderers.”