JASON Tindall hailed the recent performances of defender Diego Rico, adding: “He is certainly playing with a smile on his face.”

The Spaniard has proved to be a key figure for Cherries this season, starting in each of the past four Championship fixtures after recovering from a thigh injury and will hope to feature against Watford tomorrow (12.30pm).

Rico, 27, has also slotted into an unfamiliar centre-back role in recent games to cover for the absent Lloyd Kelly and has impressed in the early weeks of the campaign.

“I’m really pleased with Diego,” Tindall told the Daily Echo.

“I think he’s been excellent in the games he’s played so far this season. But I’m not surprised.

“Diego has always been a very good player. I’ve been delighted with his performances, certainly since he’s had to step back into a position that he hasn’t really played before and to perform as he has done is very pleasing.”

Since arriving for £10.7million from Leganes in August 2018, Rico has been in and out of the side, but his recent run in the team saw him reach 50 appearances for Cherries as he helped them to a clean sheet against QPR last weekend.

Rico also featured heavily during the Premier League run-in in Project Restart.

Asked if the three-month lockdown, which saw the defender return home to Spain for a period, played a role in his recent uptick in form, Tindall said: “Only Diego could probably answer that one himself.

“But he is certainly playing with a smile on his face and coming in every day with a smile on his face.

“I think he’s in a really good place, I think he’s in a happy place and I think that’s important.

“He certainly feels a lot of love here in terms of how important he is for the team and I think that’s made a difference and I think that’s reflected in his performances.”

Rico was the first Spanish player to play for Cherries, with new signing Rodrigo Riquelme becoming the second when he stepped out for his debut against Cardiff City on Wednesday night.

Speaking to the Echo last week, Riquelme explained how Spanish speaking Rico and Jefferson Lerma had helped him settle in England.

Asked about the trio, Tindall said: “They’re all great lads, great characters. They don’t just stick together, which is a good thing.

“They’re right in the mix with everybody. Jeff’s a wonderful character to have around.

“He’s a joker and makes everybody laugh and mixes with everybody, as does Diego and Riquelme.

“I think the good thing about the guys now is they speak very good English.

“They can communicate with everybody, they don’t just isolate themselves in one corner. They’re real team players in every way.”