In a sense, Bruno Alves made a rod for his own back following his first outing as a Rangers player. The 35-year-old, having just made his bow for his new club, likened the standard of the Scottish Premiership to that of the Portuguese second tier. From then on, he was expected to excel. It’s just as well he has, then.
“They found it different,” Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha said after the opening day win at Fir Park, explaining how the club’s new summer signings had fared against the Steelmen.
“For example, I can tell you that I spoke with Bruno Alves. He told me: ‘It reminds me of when I was playing for Porto B a long time ago in the Portuguese second division'. This was the type of football played in that scenario. It reminds him of that and we need to understand that this is going to be the reality.”
It’s perhaps understandable that Alves would make such a comparison. This is a player who has performed at the very top of the game, playing in the Champions League, winning the 2016 European Championships as a key figure for Portugal.
While Scottish football is nowhere near as bad as some like to make out, it is undeniably a step down from what Alves has been accustomed to over the past 15 years or so.
Even still, some doubted whether the former Porto and Fenerbahce player would make much of an impression at Rangers. After all, the Ibrox club had been stung by over-the-hill signings in recent years, with Joey Barton perhaps the most infamous case.
Many doubted the arrival of Alves, writing him off as yet another sign of Rangers’ scattergun transfer market approach.
What has materialised, however, has been very different. The new Scottish Premiership season might be just four games old, but Alves has already installed himself as the bedrock of Rangers’ defensive unit.
There are still a lot of moving parts still to settle at Ibrox, with the Govan club signing new fewer than 11 new players over the summer, but Alves has bedded in quicker than all of them, despite being denied a pre-season due to his involvement in the Confederations Cup with Portugal.
Of course, Alves isn’t the only signing to have impressed for Rangers early on this season. Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos has scored five goals in his last four games, including a brace in his last appearance against Ross County.
Scotland international Graham Dorrans has become the embodiment of Rangers’ new midfield unit, supported by another new signing, Ryan Jack. Elsewhere, there have been bright moments from Daniel Candeias and Fabio Cardoso.
While many were sceptical of Rangers’ summer spending spree, most of their signings have turned out better than anticipated so far, with Alves setting the precedent.
His dressing room influence was always a given, with his experience surely one of the main reasons Caixinha sought the signing of his compatriot in the first place, but his on the field performances have been the most impressive so far.
A strong and stable presence at the back, Alves’ passing has also become crucial to the way Rangers play under Caixinha. His diagonal balls to the wide areas allow the Gers to stretch the pitch quickly, contributing to the way they play on the break away from home.
At Ibrox, Rangers are still having trouble breaking down opposition sides who like to sit deep, losing to Hibernian and drawing to Hearts in their two home league games so far this season, but Alves pushing up the field into the centre of the pitch could help in that regard too.
It’s been a long time since Rangers possessed such an accomplished central defender. The hope at Ibrox was that Danny Wilson would turn into that sort of player, but he never really fulfilled his potential in that regard, even if he remains a consistent first team figure for Rangers.
The signing of Alves could prove to be a watershed for the Gers, even if his impact is only felt in the short term.
But Caixinha must address the short term before he can even think of the long term. Without the former, there will be no latter. So while Alves isn’t the man to build a defence on that will last for the next five years, he could set a standard that will survive beyond his own Rangers career. His signing is shaping up to be the most significant of Caixinha’s tenure so far.