RICARDO Santos believes unity in the Wanderers camp is as strong as it has been in his time with the club – but that won’t stop the odd squabble, here and there.

Things have been going well on the pitch for Bolton, who sit just outside the automatic promotion places on goal difference after 16 games, and the club captain has a good idea why.

Santos has been the mainstay of Ian Evatt’s defence for three-and-a-half years, and he reckons only now has the manager got the level of accountability in the squad that meets to his satisfaction.

Whether it is a slap on the back, or the odd home truth, the big defender reckons his team-mates are now starting to self-police better than ever before.

“Everyone understands their roles better and so if something isn’t working, we can say it,” he told The Bolton News.

“We say about the togetherness in the group, which is really important, but I think there is a lot more communication now too. During games people might not have said anything but now you can hear encouragement. It doesn’t have to be an argument but if someone needs a push, everyone is doing that now as well.

“All winning teams have it and we are building that here now. It is the best I have seen since I have been here.”

Off the pitch at least, Santos is somewhat of a gentle giant.

But the promotion pursuit has also brought out more of his own fiery spirit on the field, and he has played his part in keeping standards high during a seven-game winning run.

“I do it in a nice way – and the gaffer is always telling me I’m too nice,” he said.

“I don’t want to just shout at people, I want to encourage them as well. At the end of the day I just want to win. It is never anything personal.

“At Charlton, me and Nath (Baxter) had a little bust-up but it was nothing. After the game we hugged and it was all for the win, you’re all friends.

“Everyone wants the best for each other, we’re not trying to dig each other out. We all want to perform to our best and make sure there is no complacency in the squad.”

Nice guy or not, there is little doubting Santos’s popularity on the terraces at Wanderers.

His every challenge serenaded by an echoing chorus of “Rico” from the Bolton fans, he hopes to repay their support on the pitch.

“I never take it for granted,” he said. “It always makes me happy when you see my name on the back of someone’s shirt, and I’ll always have time for fans, even if I’m queuing up in Tesco. If people want to take a picture, I have always got time for it.

“They mean everything. What they do is unbelievable.

“So, if I can keep pushing on and improving then maybe there will be more tops, and we can take them into the Championship?”

Santos is a lifelong Arsenal fan – and he can remember printing the name of his own footballing hero on the back of his shirt.

“I had Thierry Henry, no defenders,” he said. “I always wanted to be a footballer but not a defender. When I was young, I played up front. I was bigger than everyone else so I could just run through them.

“Then everyone started getting bigger and better, so I had to drop back down to play in defence.”

Social media is also showing a different side to the Wanderers skipper.

Supporters who are au fait with the world of Twitch may have watched Santos in action online playing Call of Duty – and those more familiar with TikTok might also have seen him edge towards a completely different career path.

If, one day, Santos gets a gig on QVC, then it may be traced back to a self-shot advert he made for Simba Mattresses, which recently came to light.

“Funnily enough I was doing that TikTok for about five hours,” he laughed.

“I was re-starting it over and over. My missus had to help me.

“Watching it now it’s cringey but to be fair, and I’m not just saying this because I got one, but it is the best mattress I ever had.

“I don’t think I’ll be doing that again. People tell me it wasn’t too bad but when you watch yourself back, you think ‘nah!’ I won’t be doing that for a living.”

See Ricardo Santos's advert here.