Welcome back to ‘The Road to Rangers’, the series written by Ross Hutton where we take a deep dive into the life and career of Rangers players and staff before they pitched up at the famous. This time we’ll be looking at the Captain – James Tavernier.
It’s fair to say that James Henry Tavernier, born on Halloween in 1991, has been at Rangers through more horror shows than most. He’s been at the club when we’ve received hammerings and embarrassments domestically and in Europe. They say cream rises to the top in these situations and that has certainly been the case for the man we call Captain. He’s the man who has redefined our expectations of a right-back. His ability to bomb forward and hurt teams has already provided Rangers with 14 assists in all competitions this season at the time of writing.
Tavernier has had a mixed career. Before joining Rangers at the age of 23 he had already played for a total of 8 different clubs, albeit most of them were loan deals. It has given him a varied degree of experiences and opportunities that have made him the player he is today for Rangers. European nights, Play-Off finals and title wins were all part of Tavernier’s career before joining us in the summer of 2015.
So, without further ado, lets dive in and start at the beginning, with a young Rangers Captain in the making Joining Leeds United.
Leeds United: 2001-2008
A Leeds fan as a boy, Tavernier got the opportunity to join his boyhood club after he was scouted whilst playing for his local club Farsley Celtic. Leeds have a strong reputation for developing young talent through their academy, producing the likes of James Milner, Fabian Delph and Alan Smith.
Tavernier was showing such ability at such a young age that he was fast-tracked through the academy age groups constantly playing with boys older than him. When he joined Leeds, he started at U11 squad as a 9-year-old before progressing to the U13s just a year later at the age of 10. The period at Leeds was to prove one of much development for the skipper. He actually began his Leeds career as a goalkeeper for a season before being deployed in the centre of midfield. That was where he was to spend the rest of his 7-year spell at the club and despite now having been moved to right-back, he has previously spoken about his time at Elland Road as being crucial to his development both his skill and knowledge of the game.
Newcastle United: 2008-2014
Newcastle took an interest in a sixteen-year-old Tavernier in 2008 and invited him for a trial. Impressed by his skill and ability they saw the potential that Tavernier had at such a young age and offered him a spot in their U18s side. Leaving his boyhood club to join the youth ranks at Newcastle in the summer of that year may seem like a tough decision but at the time a perfectly logical one, with Newcastle in the Premier League and Leeds Utd (managed at the time by one Garry McAllister) languishing in the third tier of English football.
It should be noted that it was at this point, Tavernier was transitioned to a right-back.
Tavernier had not played a first-team match when he signed his first professional contract in 2009 as a 17-year-old, but by this time he had quickly progressed through the academy once again and was playing with the U23 squad. It wouldn’t take long however for him to make the step up to the first team, as in September of that year Tavernier made his full debut in the Carling Cup third-round in a 2-0 defeat against Peterborough where he played the full 90 minutes for Newcastle along with a couple of Rangers connections in Peter Lovenkrands and Haris Vuckic.
Managing the Newcastle first-team at the time was Alan Pardew, who told all the young players when he arrived that they should grab the opportunity of loan deals with both hands if they had the chance and use it as a springboard to catch his eye and break into the first team. On Friday 7th January 2011, Tavernier was loaned to Conference side Gateshead on an initial 28-day loan deal, making his debut the very next day as his new side drew 1-1 with Kidderminster. This prompted Gateshead manager Ian Bogie to extend Tavernier’s loan deal until April, where he ended up making 18 appearances for the club.
Bogie was particularly impressed and full of praise for his young loanee, knowing then that Tavernier would go on to great things. Speaking at the time he said:
“Tav’s been fantastic for us and obviously has a big future in the game. I’ve no doubt he can go all the way. He’s got all the tools necessary to be a modern-day professional footballer. He’s a proper athlete [and] he’s got what it takes to succeed at the top level”.
Bogie also believed his time at Gateshead gave Tavernier a solid grounding experience for the future:
“We’ve given him a good experience of regular first-team football, of playing the right way but with a competitive edge. This will stand him in good stead… He’s been a big player for us. His marauding runs down the right caused the opposition all sorts of problems and he has been a breath of fresh air”.
His loan deal was cut short however as he was recalled by Newcastle on 24th March as reserve Right-Back James Perch picked up a three-match suspension and was an unused substitute in Newcastle’s 4-1 defeat of Wolves on 2nd April.
Tavernier was loaned out once again to League One side Carlisle United in August on a one-month loan deal. This was to be the first of three League One clubs Tavernier would play for in the 2011-12 season on loan. Once again, Tavernier had his manager waxing lyrical about him to the press, with Carlisle manager Greg Abbott telling BBC Radio Cumbria:
“He has been very good for us. Overall everyone has taken to him, with his energy, his pace and his willingness to go forward. He was certainly a good acquisition.”
Due to his impressive performances, Carlisle extended Tavernier’s loan deal for a further two months to cover for their injured Right-Back Frank Simek. After 17 appearances for the Cumbrians, Tavernier returned to his parent club Newcastle after his loan deal expired and was immediately loaned out to Sheffield Wednesday on another short-term emergency loan deal that expired on 9th January.
The interesting thing about this loan deal is that Tavernier was actually played further forward on the right-wing under Wednesday manager Gary Megson, who enquired about extending Tavernier’s loan spell at the club (and by extension his stint as a right-winger) but it was Alan Pardew himself who refused to extend the loan deal as he was unhappy about Megson playing Tavernier at right-wing. Having had such an early experience in his career being given the license to go forward and develop that side of his game as well as the defensive side, this has been viewed as a crucial element into developing Tavernier into the marauding right-back we have today being crucial to the way Rangers play.
After his loan deal ending at Wednesday, Tavernier was loaned to his third League One club in little over 5 months – this time joining MK Dons as a replacement for Adam Smith after he was recalled by his parent club Tottenham. The deal was initially structured so that he would be there until the end of the season by in April Newcastle exercised the cause in the contract that allowed them to recall Tavernier at 24 hours-notice due to injuries to Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini. Tavernier spoke very highly of his time at Stadium MK, telling the Newcastle club website:
“It was very beneficial for me, it was another loan spell which allowed me to go out and play games, which is what I need, and I really enjoyed it. A knee injury stopped me from playing a few games, but I still enjoyed it”.
The start of the 2012-13 season promised to be one of major breakthroughs for Tavernier. It began with him signing a new deal with the club in the summer which contracted him with Newcastle until 2015. He made his first European appearance on 23rd August as he played the full 90 minutes in Newcastle 1-1 with Atromitos in the Europa-League Play-Off round. The Greek side targeted him specifically in this game as they continually tired to get the ball in behind him for Denis Epstein to run onto. This eventually worked to good effect on the 24th minute as Tavernier’s European inexperience was highlighted as he failed to track Epstein’s run who provided a good finish past Steve Harper in goal. Tavernier then went on to make his Premier League debut when he came on for Steven Taylor, playing just over 30 minutes in a 2-2 draw away at Reading on 29th September. However, the rest of the season failed to live up to that early promise as Tavernier made just one further league appearance that season for the Magpies.
Tavernier joined Shrewsbury Town on a month-long loan deal on 26th July 2013. However, after making just two appearances for the club Tavernier was ruled out with an injury and was forced to undergo surgery to pin his metatarsal in his foot. In November he joined Rotherham United on another emergency loan deal which would prove to be his most successful. Just two days after joining, he scored the first goal of his career on his Rotherham debut, scoring the 4th goal in a 4-1 win over Gillingham. It was a lovely goal as he wonderfully controlled the ball on his chest before smashing it home 14 minutes from time to kill the game.
Tavernier would score another four goals that season, including a brace in a 2-1 defeat of Bristol City, helping The Millers achieve promotion to the Championship where he played a crucial role in beating Leyton Orient on penalties in the 2014 Play-Off final. After going 2-0 down, Tavernier delivered the free kick that saw Rotherham get back into the game and scored Rotherham’s third penalty in the shootout.
Tavernier spoke highly of his time at Rotherham and at one point in the Spring of 2014, when it became clear he would need to move permanently too be guaranteed regular first team football, he wanted to make the move to Rotherham permanent. Tavernier was quoted at the time saying:
“It all comes down to Newcastle and Rotherham and If anything can be done. I’ve loved it here, the fans have been terrific, I’d love it [to make the move permanent]. The Championship is a great level and it can only progress me even more. If I have to go to the Championship to get regular football then yeah, I will do it”.
Wigan Athletic: 2014-2015
On 28th June 2014 Tavernier moved away from Newcastle on a permanent basis to Championship side Wigan Athletic on a 3-year deal for an undisclosed fee. He was understandably delighted at the move, telling the Wigan club website:
“It has been a long summer and I’ve been waiting a long time to finalise the deal but now that it has been completed, I’m delighted”.
Like his Premier League debut, his first taste of life in the Championship came as a substitute in a 2-2 draw with Reading on 9th August as he played the final 18 minutes of the match. Tavernier made 11 appearances for Wigan before subsequently once again being loaned to a League One side, this time Bristol City until the end of the season. City boss Steve Cotterill was thrilled to have Tavernier at the club and admitted he had been on their radar for a while.
“We were looking at him last year” he said. “We’re pleased to be able to bring him on board… He’ll give us extra legs and quality during our run in”.
Tavernier played 12 times for Bristol City between January and the end of the season managing three goals in that time, with two coming against his hometown team Bradford City, which helped the Robbins win the league and EFL Trophy double.
Tavernier was back training with his parent club when he got the call from Mark Warburton to Join Rangers for a fee of £200,000. It was an opportunity too good to pass down for him and the chance to finally be given the opportunity to prove himself at a big club at the age of 23.
Rangers have been the first club Tavernier has truly been able to settle at and show his quality on a consistent basis, playing over 200 games for the club with over 100 of those as Captain. He has been in the past a rather divisive character in the team, often the subject of unfair criticism from many of the support. Tavernier is not what we would usually associate with being a right-back and has redefined our expectations of what a right-back should be capable of. In the same sense, he is beginning to redefine what we should expect of a Captain. Tavernier won’t rip the door from its hinges in the dressing room or scream in the face of his teammates, but he will lead the team with quality and dignity that has served him well during his Rangers career.
He has been through more than most in terms of the playing staff we currently employee at the club. He has been at the club through some of our lowest points during our recovery, he has felt every emotion the fans have in that time. He has shared our embarrassments and disappointments in the 5 years he has been at the club and he has made mistakes that have cost us in dearly in matches. These experiences would have been enough to break a player in that situation. A lesser player would have shied away from the challenge needing to pick yourself off the floor and to go again every week in front of one of the most demanding, expecting and hungry fanbases in world football. But the mental strength Tavernier has shown throughout it all has been more than admirable. He can rally himself and those around him to go again, to not to give up and his presence is sorely missed in the rare occasions he is not in the squad.
There’s nowhere in this article you’ll find somewhere in his past that has taught him that level of mental strength. That’s because it cannot be taught, that’s an inner strength that you either have or you don’t. Tavernier has It in abundance and we are a better side for it. That’s why he is the club captain and that’s why I fully believe he’ll be the man lifting the league trophy when 55 happens.
When 55 does happen, the fans will deserve it more than anyone for what we’ve collectively been through. Tavernier is a close second in that regard.