The secret to James Tavernier’s Rangers relentlessness as marathon man blessed with ‘unusual’ gift

Whether wearing his Rangers right-back hat or casting his expert eye as a physiotherapist, Gary Stevens arrives at the same verdict on James Tavernier.

The fantastic captain who has led Gers to a Europa League Final is one of the freaks of football.

Stevo was a powerhouse Rangers full-back three decades ago, winning six titles under Graeme Souness and Walter Smith.

Richard Gough recently said Stevens was the only player he ever recalled having an ‘engine’ like Tav, who barely misses a minute of action while covering lung-bursting distances week in, week out.

His former skipper’s words were taken as “a fantastic and significant compliment” by Stevens.

Now working in Western Australia in physiotherapy, the 59-year-old is thrilled to see Tavernier’s displays taking the art to a different level altogether.

Stevens said: “My biggest strength was getting up and down until the 90th or 120th minute, whatever’s required. Tav’s like that.

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“I had the engine to do it, albeit strictly in a 4-4-2 when I started playing.

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“Technically, I could’ve been better. Primarily I defended and helped towards clean sheets but I joined in when I could.

“As a physio, there’s a physiological answer to what Tav does. We’ve got specific types of muscle fibers. Generally, we’re either sprinters or we’re marathon runners.

“Marathon runners can’t sprint and sprinters would post pretty terrible marathon times.

“Then you’ve got this little hybrid muscle fiber that can be changed. Yet for those who, genetically, have a crossover that allows them to be quick AND have that kind of stamina, those are the most unusual animal.

“Like myself, Tav will have those genetics from his parents. It’s a lucky combination. It allows you to have that option of defending with pace but make a 60-meter run and join in the attack straight away – then get back again!

“Tav is just a far better goalscorer than I was. In fact, he’s a better scorer than most players.

“If you spoke to Ally McCoist, though, he’d tell you that’s the strikers not doing their jobs properly!”

Tavernier finishes off moves inside the penalty box as well as being dynamite from dead balls.

Stevens fondly recalls managing to net a brace on two occasions in his career – once for Rangers against Motherwell and for Everton against Watford.

He was chuffed with those days but that’s standard stuff for Tav who’s one shy of beating last season’s 19-goal tally.

Yet his five full terms before landing at Ibrox from Wigan yielded only eight goals.

Stevens said: “He wasn’t a scorer until he arrived at Rangers. Then he found a niche, he’s found players around him that suit and it’s happening for him.

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“Stuart Pearce scored lots of goals because he hit penalties and free kicks but not so many in open play.

“Tav does the lot – and he doesn’t miss games. You need luck when pushing your body all the time.

“I missed about three games in four seasons at Rangers then, in 1992, I developed a stress fracture in my foot. It was 18 months of one injury after another.

“Tav is going to be on the radar of a few clubs, and while it’s sad to see players go, Champions League football might keep a few.”

● Gary Stevens and wife Louise are setting up a charity to help bereaved families who have lost
children to cancer. The couple’s beloved son Jack was four when he passed away last November.

Anyone interested in helping with donations of football memorabilia, please contact [email protected]

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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