James Tavernier, The European Dream

James Tavernier is definitely one of the most underrated European players in football. Back to the unlikely path of the English left side.

“I will never forget him” Steve Evans, now coach of Stevenage, remembers in the fourth division. I asked him : “Did you come here to be a man and become the great player you could be, or to waste your time? It’s the only time I’ve had to do this. Then it was absolutely amazing to us. He played an important role in our promotion. Even James would have said we played a big role in his current situation.”

Nine years later, let’s trace the Rangers captain’s rise from lower-league trainee to scoring right-back. But why is the 30-year-old Englishman, who will lead his side to Thursday’s Europa League semi-finals, still neglected in his country?

Recurring loans to Wembley champion

After six loans in four years, Tavernier may have needed a hard word to understand. The Bradford-born defender had all the potential to excel at the highest level. And the fact that Premier League club Newcastle were ready to snatch him out of the Leeds United academy in 2008 is proof of that.

Tavernier made his first of 10 first-team appearances for Newcastle in the League Cup away to Peterborough in September 2009 – the only first-team match he played that season.

Another League Cup exit was granted to the teenager the following season, with a 3-2 win over Accrington Stanley, before a January loan move to out-of-league Gateshead. Other spells abroad followed – at Carlisle United, Sheffield Wednesday, MK Dons and Shrewsbury Town – and he racked up a meager 52-match tally in the Premier League.

But it was an emergency move to Rotherham in November 2013, with former Rangers midfielder Harris Vukic, making Tavernier play professionally on a regular basis. The full-back played 31 games, scored five goals and provided six more assists, and played a vital role in the Yorkshire side’s promotion to the championship.

“I first met Tuff when I saw him playing for the U23s,” Evans explains for BBC Scotland. “I’ve seen great talent, a defender who can play in four or five positions as long as he has an offensive theme. He’s won games for us with the set pieces he’s known for. Every time we got a free kick, anywhere up to 30 yards, you’d think he was. It would be a goal, thanks to his quality. We had a great team, but James was special. In the final at Wembley we were 2-0 down in the first half through Leyton Orient. We needed more offensive threat, so I brought in a young full-back and pushed James forward. He revived the team from the ashes, played ball and pushed us forward. His tremendous contribution made us enter the tournament.”

I asked Celtic to sign it.

Evans, an avid Celtic fan, recommended the signing of his childhood club Tavernier after making an instrumental impact at Rotherham. Instead, Wigan Athletic came for the Englishman, who completed a five-year spell at Newcastle.

The permanent departure from Tyneside was expected to lead to more playing time, but the right-back started just seven times in the tournament before being loaned mid-season to League One. This time the city of Bristol was the beneficiary, with the current Ibrox captain helping to promote to Class III.

As Rangers lick their wounds after a failed promotional campaign, manager Mark Warburton has been tasked with revitalizing the club to return to the Premier League after three years in the lower divisions.

One of his first tasks was to bring the Tavernier from Wigan. The right-back was one of 11 players signed by the former Brentford boss that summer – and seven years later he became the last player standing.

“Playing against Taff, he was a great athlete,” Warburton, director of Queens Park Rangers, told BBC Scotland. “He had a lot of strength which was a constant trait throughout his Rangers career. His best form of defense was attacking. Everyone I asked about James told me that his character was strong, kind, friendly and hardworking. He trained every day and rarely missed a session. Everything we heard turned out that’s right.

James Tavernier, The Immortal Side

“I hope to score more than I have”, said Tavernier the day he arrived in Ibrox. It’s a statement one would expect from his club’s new striker, perhaps a misfit striker looking to get his magic back. Instead, it came from a defender.

The free kick against the Hibernian at Easter Road on his debut is a sign of things to come, and the first in a series of strokes of genius. In that season, he scored 15 goals and provided 23 assists, for an impressive tally of 80 goals and 106 assists in 340 games.

His numbers are terrifying‘,” says former Rangers striker Kenny Miller, who played with Tavernier for three seasons at Ibrox. Tuff arrived in an unknown quantity, but we saw its qualities right away. He’s a real modern full-back, but he’s a better defender than you think. He’s always the scapegoat when things seem to be going badly, but that’s what happens when you’re the captain of a great team. He’s been through a lot since he’s been at the club and he’s developed the mindset that a Rangers player needs. He really responded to what it means to represent this badge.”

Liverpool’s level – but why always in Scotland? To put Tavernier’s tally in some context, Miller scored 116 goals for Rangers in 301 games. For the defender to reach more than two-thirds of that total number is quite an achievement.

The caveat is that a large portion of those goals are penalties – 40 to be exact – but the England player’s number of assists is unmatched in Scotland – he has scored 12 goals this season in the league and created 88 chances in the league .32 games.

Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has also been praised for his performance and number of intimidating assists, has also reached 12 in the Premier League.

“The best praise I can give him is that he could play for Liverpool if Alexander-Arnold went out,” Evans adds. “He can compete in the Manchester City team. It would be suitable for both.”

So why hasn’t he attracted more interest from the Premier League? “Not for lack of trying”, Evans responds. “Over the past two seasons, seven or eight good coaches in the Premier League have asked me about him. But the only reason he didn’t leave was because people didn’t want to pay. He never said he wanted to leave. Rangers fans have a special captain.”

Warburton adds: “People asked me, ‘Why doesn’t Tuff come down south? “Well, there has to be a show. He plays in Europe for one of the biggest clubs, has a great history and a great fan base, so why would he want to leave?”

In his first season as Rangers coach, Steven Gerrard appointed Tavernier captain following the departure of Lee Wallace – a role Warburton claims is the Englishman. “tasting” After receiving advice from Wallace and David Weir, another former Ibrox captain.

Having entered into club folklore last year and became the first Rangers captain to lift the Premier League title in a decade, no title defense is planned this season.

Leaders Celtic lead by six points with four games remaining, but the defending champions saved their season with successive extra-time wins against Braga in the Europa League quarter-final and their Scottish Cup semi-final opponents. Bundesliga superb RB Leipzig awaits the Rangers captain, but the latter can so far write himself into the Ibrox legend by leading his team to their first European final in 14 years.


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