IAN Evatt is backing Ricardo Santos to come back stronger at Wanderers after admitting his captain failed to hit his own high standards in the second half of last season.

Speaking to The Bolton News, Evatt threw cold water on speculation that the club was looking to move on the 29-year-old centre-back this summer.

Santos struggled to overcome a tear in his calf muscle in the second half of last season and played with painkilling injections for several weeks before the play-off final defeat against Oxford United.

But Evatt believes the defensive talisman will be one of several players looking for redemption this season after the disappointment suffered last month.

“Rico has been a massive part of our journey as a football club and I think he deserves respect,” he told us. “Players have off-days, off-days, and in a private conversation Rico would admit in the second half of the season he did not hit the heights that he did previously. He is honest enough to know that and I am honest enough to have that conversation with him.

“But there is some context, and sometimes the fans and the wider public don’t get to hear that. He has been carrying issues and injuries and when that happens you sometimes can’t achieve your highest level.

“Rico has come back in good shape, really positive, and he wants to set the record straight as well.

“We all feel like the job is ours to do. Having conversations with the players today, not just Rico, everyone is fully focussed. We all know we let everybody down at Wembley and the only way to put things right is to show people and stand up, that is what we are going to do.”

The signing of Chris Forino from Wycombe stoked speculation that Santos – entering into the final year of his contract – could be about to move on after four years with Bolton.

“He will challenge everybody, not just Ricardo – all of the defenders,” Evat said of Forino. “That is part of the recruitment policy, we want players who are going to come in and make us better, Chris is one of those.

“The first conversation I had with Chris was that (Forino feels) Ricardo is the best centre half in the league and he (Forino) wants to play with him (Santos).

“All this theory that Ricardo is leaving and Chris is his replacement is simply not true.”

Evatt has confirmed, however, that the captaincy of the team has not yet been discussed between himself and the players.

Santos has worn the armband since October 2021, when Antoni Sarcevic was sold to Stockport County, but Gethin Jones, Eoin Toal and George Thomason were among those who wore it during his spells out of the team through injury last season.

Asked whether the captaincy was up for debate, Evatt added that a decision would be taken in due course.

“We haven’t had those conversations yet,” he said. “Rico is the captain of the club, but the conversation will be private, and I will always back him, he knows that.

“We will speak about it and see what the best way is to move forwards.”