A lot of Rangers fans have peddled the notion of James Tavernier as a right winger for years, the idea the club captain, whose defending is questionable at the best of times, taking Michael Beale’s infamous ‘handbrake’ off and just going for attack instead, another right back instead taking up his place behind the former Newcastle man.
It’s been perpetuated so many times, it’s often forgotten that preseason 2021 Steven Gerrard ‘revealed’ (it was a lie) that he and Nathan Patterson would have to play together because they were both too good to leave benched.
And he tried it in the second half of that summer’s preseason friendly v Arsenal, and we can tell you it far from worked.
Why? Tavernier looked lost. Given free licence to simply sit forward, he was no longer making his dynamic deep runs from defence and overlapping on the right, instead he was expected to dribble and beat men like a winger does. Tavernier completely lacks that skill – he’s successful as a ‘Cafu’-type RB because he’s an attacker and defender in one, and he uses the actual winger to overlap on, to make space for him, and to cut deep and get to the byline.
To switch him round would see a complete dichotomy shift for him, and at his age he might struggle to learn how to play as a winger.
Can we really see Tavernier cutting inside, dribbling, beating men? His most productive stuff is as an auxiliary forward, supporting the attackers and exchanging position with them – in that friendly two years ago he actually did not know how to play advanced midfield, he looked absolutely lost, knowing he couldn’t retreat back into defence or risk getting in Patterson’s way, and didn’t actually know how to sit advanced like a winger does, drifting around and finding the space.
Of course, this is not to say Michael Beale couldn’t teach him how to play the slot, maybe he could – and maybe Tavernier could be Rangers’ long-hoped for answer to the RW slot, the slot we’d hoped Rabbi Matondo could nail down.
But it would be teaching an old dog new tricks, and we don’t know if Tav has that in him.