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How James Tavernier silenced his Ibrox critics and became the ‘best business’ Rangers have done this summer

EXCITEMENT among Rangers fans about the impact that new signings Antonio Colak, Ben Davies, Tom Lawrence, Rabbi Matondo, John Souttar and Malik Tillman can make in the new season is growing by the day.

And the impending arrival of Turkey left back Ridvan Yilmaz in a £5m transfer from Besiktas has also energized fans of the Ibrox club ahead of their opening cinch Premiership match against Livingston away next Saturday.

The summer is always, with players departing, a raft of names from across the globe linked with moves and reinforcements joining, a busy time in Govan.

Yet, for Richard Foster, the BBC pundit who won spent three seasons as a player with the Glasgow giants, the most important piece of business Rangers will carry out will be extending the contract of Captain James Tavernier.

Right back Tavernier, who led Rangers to their first Scottish title in a decade last year and then through to the Europa League final in Seville last term, is poised to commit his future to the Scottish Cup winners until 2026 in the coming days.

Foster, who lifted the Premier League and League Cup and featured in the Champions League during the two spells that he had at Ibrox, believes the defender will enable the new arrivals to settle and manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst to build on the progress he has made to date.

“I think Tavernier extending his contract at Ibrox is as big for Rangers as any new signing they have made,” he said. “It is good for the fans to know that he is staying.

“Sometimes players, and I was guilty of it myself, go chasing something else. You think the grass is greener elsewhere. You can follow the money and the riches down south are phenomenal. Tavernier has got the attributes and quality that he needs to play at a higher level.

“But he is the captain of Rangers and they have the opportunity to qualify for the Champions League this season. He is earning a good living, is happy here, is in great shape and is experiencing success. As a player, you want to win things and he has the chance to do that here. Fair play to him for staying.

“He doesn’t have to provide anything to anyone. Being one of the top players in the Premiership is enough for him. For some players it isn’t, but for him it is. He enjoys the pressure of being the captain of Rangers. And, let’s face it, there is a lot of pressure.

“Rangers need players who can deal with the demands on them and rise to the challenge and he can do that. Yes, the supporters want players to come in. But you need the players who are already there as well. They know what it is all about and can help the new signings do well at the same time as being challenged by them.

“There is always a bit of uncertainty with new players. It adds to the excitement. Fans never really know what they are going to get. But having someone like Tav there will help them to settle in and produce their best football.”

It certainly took Tavernier, who joined from Wigan Athletic for just £200,000 back in 2015 shortly after Mark Warburton had been appointed Rangers manager, some time to reach the level which he is currently operating at and he suffered numerous defeats and disappointments along the way.

His progress going forward was never in any doubt. He set up and scored goals from the moment he arrived at Ibrox. But he was prone to costly lapses at the back on occasion and had his detractors in the stands because of that.

But in the past couple of seasons he has flourished at home and abroad – he was crowned PFA Scotland Player of the Year after his team went undefeated in the Premiership two seasons ago and he finished top scorer in the Europa League and was named in the Team of the Season last term.

Foster, who knows just how difficult it can be to fill the right back berth for Rangers from personal experience, feels that former manager Gerrard and current head coach Van Bronckhorst deserve credit for his transformation.

“Tavernier has certainly improved his all-round game,” he said. “But I think he was quite harshly criticized back at the start. The way he plays, he is always looking to get forward. He has brought Rangers so much success with his assists and his goals from him.

“But when he got back into defense he was sometimes out of position and was blamed for costing the team a goal. I thought it was a bit unfair on him. Yes, there were times when he made mistakes. But he was held to the standard of a right back who sits in and doesn’t go forward. That is not the way he plays.

“A big reason he has been such a success in the past couple of seasons is that Rangers have found a way to plug the gap that he leaves by using Ryan Jack, Steven Davis or John Lundstram. Tavernier’s game has always been at a good level. But now Rangers as a team are structured so much better.

“You can attack and defend as a full-back to a certain extent. But when he brings so much going forward you need to find a way to allow him to do that and not become exposed at the back. Rangers have now done that.”

He added: “It started under Steven Gerrard a couple of seasons ago and continued under Giovanni van Bronckhorst. They have a good balance in the team and there is always a midfielder, whether it is Davis, Lundstram or Jack, who can drop back when they go upfield.

“Personally, I think Jack has been a huge player for them in that regard. Lundstram has also been outstanding under Van Bronckhorst. But whoever is involved, they are now set up very well and are playing to their strengths.

“Van Bronckhorst has realized that one of his main attacking threats is Tavernier and has figured out how to get him going forward and remain watertight. The balance he has in midfield allows his captain to get upfield. As I say, his game from him has not changed all that much.

Van Bronckhorst only has, with Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe both working their way back to full fitness after injuries, one specialist striker at his disposal just now in Colak.

But Foster, who is looking for a player-coach position after leaving Partick Thistle, thinks Tavernier poses as much of a threat in the opposition penalty box as any forward and will ensure Rangers continue to score regularly in the new season.

“He moves like a striker when he is in the box,” he said. “His numbers from him are ridiculous. It shows up us other full-backs. We just can’t compete with that. His deliveries of him are excellent and he has an eye for goal.

“The other thing he does is steps up when the team is struggling a bit. Invariably, he produces something, whether it is a cross or a goal. He has come up with big moments in big games for Rangers. You can see how respected he is by his team mates.

“Rangers’ run in Europe last season was exceptional and he was such a huge part of that success. I have finished the Europa League as the top scorer with seven goals. For a right back, that is incredible.”

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