The likes of Burton Albion, Walsall and Gillingham have made many of the headlines in League One following their fantastic starts to the season.
But in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough United’s recent form has seen them enter the promotion picture as they look to regain the Championship status they lost back in 2013.
Manager Graham Westley is enjoying a brilliant debut campaign at London Road, which saw him named the third-tier’s Manager of the Month for November.
And one player who’s really started to make a name for himself under the ex-Stevenage boss is defender Ricardo Santos.
Following a knee injury, the Portugal-born centre-back was rejected by Dagenham & Redbridge in 2013 and had to work his way into the professional game via Isthmian League outfit Thurrock.
Luckily Posh have a good track record of finding diamonds from non-league football (Craig Mackail-Smith, Aaron McLean, George Boyd, Dwight Gayle) and saw the potential in Santos.
And since impressing as a substitute in the second match at Colchester in August he has become a key man for Westley’s high-flyers.
Shoot spoke to the 20-year-old about United’s promotion goal, working with Westley and his journey to the Football League…..
Peterborough are in great form at the moment. Can you gain promotion this season?
“Yes, hopefully we can win promotion. We have the potential in our squad and we all want to keep working hard. We just need to keep going. If we can do that then we will 100% be up there at the end of the season.”
As a defender, can it be difficult to play in a side with some much attacking intent?
“Not really, because I’m always focused on doing my job. My team-mates help me a lot; Ben Alnwick the keeper and Boszy (Michael Bostwick) help me stay on my toes. We always help each other get through the game, even if we’re not really involved at times due to the work the forward players are doing.”
You mentioned Michael Bostwick. How do you enjoy your partnership at the centre of defence?
“It’s great. He helps me a lot and he believes in me. I am still young and he has a lot of experience. It’s good working with him because we have a good level of trust and are constantly communicating. I look at his performances and always try to learn from them.”
You were signed by ex-boss Darren Ferguson so did you feel it would impact your chances of getting into the first team when he left?
“I never thought it would impact my chance of getting into the first-team. I had already played a couple of games at right-back, so felt good. Darren always believed in me and told me I would be big one day if I focused, but him leaving never had any effect on me playing. When the new manager came in all I tried to do was work as hard as ever to get into the team again.”
Graham Westley has done superbly in his debut season in charge. How is it to play for him in this exciting team?
“It’s good playing under the manager, because he has a great mentality when it comes to winning and being a champion. As you can see it’s going very well and we are in good form. We are always doing extra to make us better, because all the boys want to work hard for each other and we have a really strong bond in the changing room.”
In the FA Cup you were drawn at home to Preston, Westley’s old club, in the third round. Can you cause an upset and, if so, who would you want in the fourth round?
“I think we can because we are good at home and we will be confident. We just need to keep passing it, attack and work as a team, then we can definitely do it. If I had to pick a team to play in the next round would be Chelsea away. They are struggling at the moment so it would be good and we’d have a chance. I would also like the chance to play against Diego Costa.”
You have done it the hard way by coming from non-league. Was there ever a moment you felt you may not make it professionally?
“When I was training a lot with the first-team at Dagenham and travelling to the games, even though I wouldn’t be on the bench, I always thought I would make it. Even when I had by bad injury I always had the belief I would make it as a professional and, soon enough, I got back into form.”
There were times at Thurrock when I sometimes would think no one was watching me play and that maybe I wouldn’t make it. Also the fact I wasn’t having to train as much as before and playing on bad pitches made it difficult for me. But when I was told clubs were watching it again gave me the belief I would make it. I then got spotted by Peterborough and they asked me to come in for a trial. I did well and they signed me.”
Now Dagenham are struggling in League Two, do you feel you maybe they missed your potential?
“Not really. Everything happens for a reason. It’s worked out well for me so I can see it as a blessing in disguise. After my knee injury I wasn’t feeling that confident so I don’t blame Dagenham for the decision. They also didn’t have the money to take a risk on me and give me time. That’s football.”
You were born in Portugal so did you start playing football over there or over here?
“I came to England from Portugal with my family when I was about three and I used to play Sunday league youth football. It was there where I got picked up by Dagenham & Redbridge.”
Although you’re only 20, what’s been your football highlight so far?
“I haven’t scored in the league yet but my scoring against West Ham in pre-season was great. I’d say that’s my best moment so far.”
After making the jump from non-league to League One, how much further do you aim to go
“When I was younger I dreamed about playing for Arsenal in the Premier League. I do believe I can reach the top level but at the moment it’s all about confidence and to keep building on that. If I keep working hard, get fitter, stronger and keep working on my game, then hopefully I can make it there one day.”
Favourite holiday destination? – Lisbon. I like going back home.
Favourite music artist? – My good friend J, Hus. He’s a UK rapper.
Favourite film? – Boyz ‘N the Hood.
Favourite footballer? – Vincent Kompany and John Stones are my idols at the moment but I always liked Carles Puyol and now Gerard Pique at Barcelona.
Fish and Chips or Portuguese Paella? Definitely Portuguese Paella, any day!