RICARDO Santos says he has never been happier than he is right now with Bolton Wanderers.

The big defender, closing in on 150 appearances for the Whites, is feeling back to his best after a short spell out with injury early in the season.

One of Ian Evatt’s first additions after arriving as manager, the 28-year-old has firmly established himself as one of the fan-favourites at Bolton and recently passed his third year as club captain.

“I feel like I have got stronger every year,” he said. “I am getting to that age now where people might say I’m in my prime, but I understand my game. I am trying to work on being a better captain, being more vocal and helping the younger players.

“I want to be a big presence around the club. I feel like I am getting better at that now but there is still room to improve.

“I’ve had highs and lows, but I am happy and probably the happiest I have been in my career.”

Described by his manager as the “best player in League One” Santos has become an integral part of Wanderers’ tactical make-up, his individual defending skills allowing more players to push into attacking areas of the pitch.

But nursing the bruises from a physical encounter at Shrewsbury on Tuesday night, he admits the job isn’t getting any easier.

“It is getting harder – the strikers are getting younger, quicker and stronger,” he laughed. “I need to stay on it. But I enjoy defending, it is one of the things I like doing. I want to show I can defend one-v-one and show my attributes but I get a lot of help. It is enjoyable.”

Santos will most likely be tasked with a player five years his senior this weekend, with Blackpool’s goal-getter Jordan Rhodes likely to start the game and continue a long rivalry with Bolton.

The former Blackburn and Huddersfield man has scored eight times in 13 meetings with the Whites down the years.

Santos feels he and a team coming off a five-game winning streak will be ready for the occasion.

“The gaffer always talks about trying to prove people wrong and I think we are slowly starting to tick those boxes,” he said. “Even those tough Tuesday night games away from home, we have started to win games comfortably, so Saturday will be another big game with a big crowd, so we need to perform and get the job done.

“We are learning, I think. Any ground we go to, home or away, we have a full stand. They put a lot of demands on us, which is understandable, this is a big club. We need to thrive off it, don’t get complacent, try to get the points.”