HIS club may have been relegated from the top flight of Brazilian football for the first time in their 98 year history in the season that has just ended after serious off-field difficulties impacted on performances on the park.

But Fabricio Bruno, the Cruzeiro centre half who has attracted the interest of Celtic, has enhanced his burgeoning reputation as a reliable defender considerably during a difficult 2019 Serie A campaign.

In fact, the 23-year-old, who has gone to court in an attempt to have his contract with the financially-stricken Belo Horizonte club annulled, has emerged as one of best defenders in the entire league.

Players from the football-obsessed South American nation traditionally haven’t fared well in Scotland over the years.

Only five Brazilians have played in the top division in this country in the past – Samuel Camazzola (Hearts), Alexandre Cerdeira (Dundee), Edinho (Dunfermline), Emerson (Rangers), Juninho and Rafael Scheidt (both Celtic) - and none of them lasted longer than a season.

The Parkhead club’s previous experiences with samba stars have proved particularly disappointing.

World Cup winner Juninho failed to live up to high expectations after arriving in 2003. He was played out of position by manager Martin O’Neill and only scored one goal in 22 appearances.

Scheidt, signed for £5 million from Gremio in his homeland in 1999, made even less of an impact. He featured in just three games, two as a substitute, and was later rated as the second worst transfer in football history.

However, statistics show Bruno was sixth in the 20 team league for defensive duel success in 2019 after winning 75 per cent of his individual battles with rival players.

Those figures compare favourably with the Parkhead club’s first choice centre backs Kristoffer Ajer (81 per cent) and Christopher Jullien (80 per cent) and are better than Rangers defenders Nikola Katic (72 per cent), Filip Helander (66 per cent) and Connor Goldson (61 per cent). He would be the eighth highest ranked player in Scotland in that area.

Bruno is also decent in the air as his statistics on the match analysis website Wycout show; he was 11th for aerial duels in Serie A in the 2019 season, which runs from May to December, with a success rate of 67 per cent.

That would place him 13th in this country behind Jullien (73 per cent) and Ajer (71 per cent), but ahead of Goldson (66 per cent), Helander (65 per cent) and Scott McKenna of Aberdeen (64 per cent).

The 6ft 3in defender’s disciplinary record is also decent; he picked up just three yellow cards in the 19 matches he was involved in and wasn’t ordered off once.

Cruzerio dropped down to Serie B after losing 16 of their 38 league matches and finishing three points behind Ceara. But their record when Bruno played was good. They only lost four of the 19 games he was involved in. They kept nine clean sheets with him in their starting line-up and only managed two when he wasn’t.

Bruno, who claims he is owed £2 million in wages and image rights by Cruzerio, is eager to further his career overseas and is hopeful that having his contract cancelled by the Regional Labour Court in Belo Horizonte will make it easier for Celtic to sign him.

He has enjoyed success playing in green and white jersey before. He spent two seasons on loan at Chapecoense, the Santa Catarina club who lost 19 players and staff in a plane crash in Colombia back in 2016, and enjoyed the experience. When he returned to his parent club at the start of this year he paid a glowing tribute to “Big Green”.

“It has always been and will be an honour to wear this shirt,” Bruno told supporters. “Thanks to this wonderful crowd that has always been with me. I will carry this club always in my heart.”