ONE of the greatest transfer deals in the history of Rangers was instigated by another club imploding at the seams.

Uwe Rosler couldn't halt Wigan's sudden plummet through the English leagues over three disaster-laden seasons, seeing them suffer a brutal relegation into the third tier. It was to result in the German's dismissal. 

With then-chairman Dave Whelan desperate to halt the slide, he turned to a man who could identify the problems in the dressing room quickly. Gary Caldwell was perfect because he'd been an intrinsic part of what had gone wrong from the inside. With nearly every player in the changing room wanting to depart what they saw as a rapidly sinking ship, huge changes had to be made.

The rebuild would ultimately prove successful with Wigan bouncing back from League One at the first time of asking, but not without allowing inexperienced right-back James Tavernier slip through their fingers for just £220,000. It's understandably a decision Caldwell still looks back on and ponders.

"Tav was one of those players who was right on the line,”  he said in 2020. "We felt like going forward he was fantastic, powerful, great delivery, set-pieces - but defensively he wasn’t great. He needed a new challenge, he looked like he wanted to get another club. Financially, it made a lot of sense given the wages the players were on and the money we were being paid. We felt like he’d benefit from a change of scenery.” 

And Tavernier wasn't the only player that then-Rangers manager Mark Warburton spied as a bargain basement, high-quality gem in Wigan's firesale.

Forward Martyn Waghorn was also secured at the same time in another clever deal and the future £8m Derby signing reckons the pair were victims of the circumstances engulfing Wigan at the time.

“I know Tav had a good loan, getting promoted with Rotherham from League One,”  the now 32-year-old recalls. “Rosler was the manager at the time and sometimes it clicks and works really well but sometimes it’s very hard to transition to a new manager and style of play. To be honest I think we both struggled that year. Tav didn’t get much game time at the start, in and out, likewise with me. Ultimately we got relegated. The club was in transition, we had three managers. Gary Caldwell came in and wanted to do things his own way.  

“Tav and I heard of the interest, we had the same agent at the time. As soon as Rangers come in you are interested. We knew where they had been in their recent history and they were in the Championship. To me, it was a no-brainer and a chance to kick-start my career. I knew the manager as someone who was keen on me when I was down in the Championship before.  

“I knew Tav was excited about the challenge. We knew how big the club was... well at that point we didn’t really know how big it actually was. The history. Until you’ve been with the fans and playing amongst it you don’t really know the size and stature. 

“We were quite close back then, we were on the phone all of the time and we had a really good relationship. It was an exciting time.” 

Warburton had first noticed Tavernier bombing down the flanks in the distinctly unglamourous surroundings of Rotherham, a town more readily associated with graft and industry than creative finesse.

The young man catching his eye instantly reminded him of a successful previous signing at Brentford and when arriving at Rangers, Warburton knew exactly where to secure the perfect counter-balance to Lee Wallace's running power on the left flank.

“I saw a very athletic, attack-minded full-back/winger,”  recalls Warburton, now assistant coach to Davie Moyes at Premier League West Ham. “Previously at Brentford, we had converted a guy called Moses Obudajo from right-wing to right-back and he went on to play in the Premier League in a big move. I saw Tav as being the same but he was more solid and had a better delivery from set-pieces. Mo was probably quicker but I saw exactly the same traits. 

“When I went to Rangers we wanted attack-minded full-backs and I knew we had Lee Wallace. I knew what he could do. At the time, money-wise, it worked perfectly. He and Waghorn were the two that we saw. 

Rangers Review: Warburton and Tavernier in 2015Warburton and Tavernier in 2015

“He showed that attacking intent that we needed. Rangers were always going to be on the front foot in the Championship and it was about maximising that use of the ball. Tav was the perfect man for that.” 

With the right player now identified, it was all about securing a deal. Rangers were in no doubt Wigan had undervalued their asset but that didn't stop them knocking the price down further as Warburton, about as financially savvy as a football manager can get given his background in billion-dollar corporate finance deals, looked to maximise his bang for buck.

“All the signals early on were that it was doable at a ridiculously low price,”  he admits. “We had other options we could have got but no one stuck. It was about getting him done and getting him done early. It was a relatively easy deal to do. We haggled over the fee and got it down a little bit. All the usual stuff you’d expect. We knew the fee for him was low. We’d paid multiples of that to get Obudajo to Brentford.” 

With a deal between the clubs in place for relative peanuts, the next step was persuading Tavernier that the Scottish Championship would only be the start of a long and successful journey.

Warburton's successful spell in London with Brentford and the interest that followed his key part in their seemingly remarkable rise was important. That such a sought-after boss had committed himself to the Rangers project was in of itself a selling point that made others take notice.

“In terms of securing him to come to Glasgow, this sounds arrogant but I don’t mean it to be, I had enjoyed a very good season at Brentford so that had sway and I could say I was buying into it. Then it was the sell of Ibrox atmosphere videos on Youtube and asking them, ‘Do you want to play at Wigan or Rotherham or this, in front of this crowd?’ 

“The players are not stupid and they know they are leaving the English leagues and what happens if the bubble bursts and Rangers don’t go up? You do the initial sell but then you say in a humble way ‘Look Tav, I’ve done it. This is an opportunity that very rarely comes along, you need to grab it!’ He is a smart kid. He saw it straight away. From day one he embraced it.” 

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Indeed he did. Tavernier scored goals for fun in that Championship season becoming an instant favourite. It's a habit he has kept to this day. With 83 goals in light blue, he is hurtling towards what would be a remarkable century given his position at right-back.

And it's clear from the warmth in his voice just how much Warburton admires his former charge, but there's one less-heralded element of his play the 58-year-old identifies as an incredibly important aspect of his game.

 “He takes it in tight areas," he confides. “I always like players who take care of the football. He will take it and be an outlet. He knows he’s going to be closed down but he will still take it and relieve the pressure on the team. It’s a small detail of what he does. He’s a brave player, a courageous player. If he makes a mistake it won’t stop him going again.

“Also, I also can’t recall him missing a day of training. That’s a big thing. When you have a games program like Rangers has it’s important. He enjoyed training. Any job can become a grind but he genuinely enjoys training. He’s doing his pool work, his gym work and uses every resource available to give him the best chance to succeed.” 

Seven years on from one of the best deals in the club's 150-year history, Tavernier is now captain. He's lifted the most important championship in a generation and led his team to a European final. It's surely the best deal of Warburton's career? After all, how many managers have the signature of a bona fide legend on their CV, let alone for such a pittance?

“It has to be one of the most pleasing deals,”  he smiles.

“Tav ticks all the boxes. He had a very close relationship with Lee Wallace and he learned a lot from Lee. He’s an outstanding captain and leader in the way he communicates. Tav bled him dry in the nicest possible way in terms of information. 

“When he picked up that armband, I knew what it would mean to him. He’s not one of these guys who just walks around the pitch. He knows what it means to the club, supporters and so many people. 

“He’s still got some big years ahead of him. He can keep pushing on and he deserves to. There’s no doubt he’s one of my best bits of transfer business because it’s a cheap outlay, he’s delivered to many multitudes and he’s still delivering. He’s a machine. You can see him playing at this level for another four years and even changing position into a back three.” 

And what of Caldwell, the man who let him depart his club for such a small fee? There are no grudges. Tavernier is simply not the kind of man to provoke such emotions.

He said: "I’m delighted he’s done so well. He’s been amazing for Rangers and he is one of those players you think we maybe should have done more to keep ahold of him and he could have been that player for Wigan. He’s really stepped up so many levels and has done brilliantly for Rangers.”