Sitting in the hotel lounge of Rangers’ La Manga training base, James Tavernier is recounting his emotions after finally lifting the League Cup last month. The predominant feeling raised sums up life under the footballing glare of Glasgow.

“A sigh of relief”.

Such is the pressure of success at Rangers, happiness and celebration only follow once the weight of expectation has been lifted by victory.

Now in his ninth season at the club, the 32-year-old won a piece of silverware at Hampden on December 17 that’s “evaded himself and the club for too long”. It’s taken Tavernier a few more seasons than desired to complete the set in Scotland and he doesn’t live without regrets when considering so many near misses. The right-back’s story at the club has not always followed a predictable trajectory but, now inducted in the Hall of Fame, few would argue against legendary status. 

During an exclusive two-part sit down with the Rangers Review in Spain at the club's warm-weather training camp, Tavernier takes us behind life as Rangers captain.

Today’s entry, part one, focuses on leadership, his growth and story at the club, regrets, living under pressure, the Road to Seville and the pain still associated with the final, belief that the good times can return under Philippe Clement, nearing John Greig’s scoring record and more.

Tomorrow in part two, Tavernier explains the hows and whys behind his game, breaking down the details of trademark goals. Hear first-hand his approach to attacking the box, why he’s not a striker, perfecting his free-kick technique with a washing line, a half-time chat that sealed the winning goal in the League Cup Final, copying David Beckham, how he powered Rangers to Seville and Clement’s tactical set-up.

When James Tavernier arrived at Ibrox in 2015 for what Mark Warburton would later call a “ridiculously low price” of £200,000, things looked very different. The club were still on their journey back to the Scottish Premiership after years of turmoil, with many still to come. Tavernier, meanwhile, had already turned out for nine different sides by the age of 23. Little did he know that nearly a decade later that total of clubs would still stand at 10 with 117 goals, 435 appearances and six seasons of captaincy behind him at Rangers.

Tavernier has been intensely scrutinised and present on some dark days but hindsight, while not without mistakes and missteps, shows him in a favourable light. He’s bounced back so often that few risk writing him off now, overcoming scar tissue along the way that would’ve permanently weighed others down.

“I have been through a lot of managers and players and it has been tricky at times. I would like to change some things but from a personal point of view and how my career has built me as a character and leader, I have learnt a lot through those ups and downs,” he says.

“It has been a rollercoaster since I’ve been here. I’ve always had the regret of not winning trophies I wanted to win, but I’ve pushed myself no matter what to play my best football.”

During our conversation, the man signed from Wigan does not attempt to shy away from disappointments or development. Neither does he appear weighed down or defined by those moments. There were times before lifting a 55th league title, perhaps the most important in the club’s 152-year history, where Tavernier’s status as captain was routinely questioned. More of a leader by his actions than by voice, no one can deny a tendency to provide in big moments.

So, what does leadership mean to Tavernier?

“The captaincy has changed,” he reflects.

“You have the shouting and bawling captains and then those who lead by example in the way that they play. That’s football in general now. I can accept a bollocking from one of my teammates but there are more feelings, if you want to say it like that, amongst young players. Players can all react differently.

“For me as a captain, it’s about understanding my players. First and foremost my task is to lead by example in the way that I play and train. You have to set that precedent right from the off because you can’t be telling everyone what to do without doing that yourself first.

“Everyone is different in my team so I will approach them in a certain way. If I need to get close to them and have a word then I will, if it’s people I need to have a good shout at to improve then I’ll do that.

“I’m continuing to learn how to get the best out of my players, that’s what you want to do as a captain. The pressure of the captaincy? I have loved every minute of it, even the obstacles, because I have had to overcome whatever has been fired my way.”

Tavernier had worn the captain’s armband in the 2017/18 season before the arrival of Steven Gerrard and was handed the role permanently in the summer of 2018. How does he chart his growth with the armband since that summer?

“Over the years the main focus I’ve had is the consistency of working hard on the training pitch and trusting that will come out in the games,” he adds. “Before I was the captain in my first couple of years here I was probably one of the worst trainers but I would turn up on a matchday. As you grow as a player you start to realise what effect that has on the team and others and how the coach sees you.”

The culmination of Tavernier’s ability to lead by actions and provide for his team in the big moments came on the road to Seville – Rangers’ 2022 run to the Europa League Final. Just like last month when it was his two goals in the semi-final and winner late in the second half that secured the first silverware of the season.

He’d arguably been the country’s best player the season before as Rangers won a 55th league title, but ending joint-top scorer on the European stage and finding the net in each knockout round was another matter entirely. Whether pressure penalties or crucial goals at the back post, on that run Tavernier became an inevitability.

“The group stage was pretty quiet for me,” he smiles casting his mind back to the run. A pulsating, all-consuming journey to penalty kicks in the final of a European tournament. A run that is iconic and was almost immortal. That’s an important distinction and there’s a clear tension for Tavernier when discussing those four months.

One on hand Rangers defied so many odds and individually he had so many moments. The final in itself was an achievement. And yet, “the worst part was how close we were”.

“You know what, I’ve only watched the Leipzig game once through because that year and that tournament still hurts. I’ve never seen the final through again and don't think I ever will,” Tavernier says.

“Gio [Van Bronckhorst] had us in a man-for-man formation against these big teams, I think collectively as a team we really came together. We were playing against much better individuals but we gelled as a team and, after all, it’s teams who win games.

“Some of the nights were unbelievable. The Leipzig win? It started when we lost 1-0 away the week before and we thought ‘We’ve got a really good chance here at Ibrox’. We had a real belief that facing any team at Ibrox, we were going to take them. We thought we’d win the game no matter what at Ibrox and I think that struck a certain fear factor in other teams.”

Speak to most Rangers fans of a certain era and Rangers 3 RB Leipzig 1, to earn a place in the Europa League Final, is the best night they’ve experienced at Ibrox. Perhaps the best they ever will. It was Tavernier, who explains the details behind his game, eye for goal, penalty box movement and more in part two of this interview tomorrow, who opened the scoring.

READ MORE: The inside story of the night Rangers rocked Leipzig amid Ibrox noise 'earthquake'

“I was saying to Raz (Ryan Kent) before this game ‘Get me at the back post,” he says as the opener in Rangers’ historic 3-1 Europa League win is played on a laptop in front of him. 

“There was one in the first leg where I was there,” he adds, citing a near miss away in Leipzig when Kent opted to shoot rather than cross. His captain was free yards from goal but it would take the return leg to pull off that crucial move.

“That was a key tactic in this run, me being at the back post, because the opposition were under pressure to attack and the way we were playing gave me the freedom to get forward into the box and attack the back post. I think it started to put a bit of fear into the opposition."

It's put to Tavernier that in the lead-up to the strike Angelino, the RB Leipzig left-back, clearly knows what to expect. He checks his shoulder four or five times, but still cannot stop the finish which was quickly becoming inevitable after similar goals against Borussia Dortmund and Braga.

“In this example, it was just trying to be onside and time my run right and hope Razza finds us," Tavernier adds. "Thankfully, he did!"

"I tend to forget I even scored in that game. It’s the Lunny moment that really stands out,” he adds, speaking like a fan who witnessed John Lundstram's late winner instead of a player who lived it.

“An unforgettable night.”

The final proved a step too far as Eintracht Frankfurt won the trophy on penalties following a 1-1 draw. As Tavernier suggests, however, it was how close his team were to Rangers’ crowning modern achievement that harbours a sense of regret.

“Both teams don’t want to lose and concede in the final – the game was nervy,” he continues.

“Joe [Aribo] scores a great goal and you’re thinking 'We have a foot in the door'. I remember the analysis of one player, my winger [Filip Kostic], who loves to cross through legs. At the crucial moment I am not out by the touchline, I think it was Scott Wright out there, he manages to cross it through the legs and they score.

“It’s such fine details. Such fine margins. I wish maybe it was me out there to know that cross was coming. Then Ryan [Kent] has a fantastic chance at the back post which could’ve changed all our lives. Then the penalty shoot-out, all their spot-kicks were unbelievable. We had Allan McGregor who is unbelievable at saving penalties and was in great form.

“The worst part is how close we were, even if it was an unbelievable achievement to get there."

With a place in this season’s last-16 of the Europa League secured is he dreaming of another shot at glory?

“A lot of the players on that run are still in the squad, we’d love to get to something like that again. We believe regardless of the opponent if we play well like in that previous run, especially with Ibrox...  Let’s see where it goes.”

After the highs of 2021’s title win extended into the European run of 2022, Rangers found themselves in something of a no-man’s land this October. The much-anticipated rebuild led by Michael Beale was over after three league defeats in eight games and Ibrox, over a number of games, was angry and perhaps the most visceral it had been in years as the prospect of another season in the wilderness emerged. The final hopes of building on the success from the summer of 2021 were severed as Beale, Gerrard’s ex-assistant, left the club in October.

Things feel a whole lot better now. Philippe Clement’s start to life at Rangers has exceeded expectations. A narrow Old Firm defeat before the winter break followed a 16-game unbeaten run that included silverware and a historic 3-2 win away against Real Betis. A quote from Clement’s former assistant during an exclusive interview with the Rangers Review, Johan van Rumst, is put to Tavernier. “Every coach has his football ideas, but crucially, Philippe can project those ideas onto his players. His man-management is what sets him apart."

“Yeah definitely, that’s how he has started,” Tavernier says, nodding his head in agreement.

“You look at all the great managers, like Ancelotti or Mourinho, and they have really good man-management. I listen to some of Jermaine’s [Defoe] podcasts with old-school managers and they have that bond with their teams. Players will run through brick walls for you. That’s what the gaffer has done. He has got to know all his players, understood everyone and everyone is tuned in.

“I feel the more time we have, especially this week, we’re only going to get better with the ideas he puts across.”

“The gaffer is only here because he wants to win. There’s an intensity to him and an experience of winning. Some of the decisions he’s made so far have set his mark as the Rangers manager,” Tavernier adds. Interestingly, Connor Goldson made a very similar point speaking to the Rangers Review the day prior, saying: “The club needed someone to come in and say ‘It is my way or the high way’ and I think that is what he has done. He set his precedent very early and you can see in some team selections or decisions that he has made that it is his way or you are not going to play."

Tavernier adds: “Like the manager says it’s a story that we are all in together. The only way we can make it the best possible story is by winning things.”

Tavernier broke through the 100-goal barrier at Rangers last season and with 16 already this campaign, John Greig’s scoring record is in sight. Tavernier sits just three behind the Greatest Ever Ranger’s 120, and he’s a man whom the full-back enjoys a close bond with. Even if compliments are hard to come by.

“He reliably informs me he’d score all the goals I do with a broken leg,” he laughs.

“I got to see a lot more of Mr. Greig when I started at Rangers. He used to come into the back room at Dr Jackson's when the stadium was a bit different. I’d see him before and after games and I’d get a lot of grief no matter how I played.

“He is a true legend of the club. It’s only right we have a statue outside to mark his contribution. Overtaking him would be a huge achievement but I could never compare myself to him. I just try to be a sponge around him.

“I’ve always appreciated whatever words I’ve had around him, even if it’s been grief, and keep learning because he has an abundance of knowledge.”

And so, to the future. Tavernier may be 32 but isn’t planning on slowing down and his contribution in recent months solidifies that intent. Games take their toll on players eventually but as a consummate professional, there’s a reason the defender is so rarely out of the team.

How would James Tavernier, the 23-year-old who arrived at Rangers in the Championship, have viewed the records, moments and achievements nine years on? How much more is still to come?

“I’m angry I lost in training this morning,” he says.

“The hunger to win? That never goes away. Whether it’s in training or matches, that’s my job as a captain. To bring standards and drive to the team. That is what Rangers is about. The club is built on a rich history of winning trophies. You’re confronted with that fact every day at the training ground and the stadium. Rangers’ rich history of winning trophies – my job as captain is to continue that.”

It seems as though there’s still a chapter or two to write for Tavernier as a testimonial year nears. Through nearly a decade of tumult and change he's been a constant, in many ways defining the growth and change within that period. 

And he’ll hope under Clement that a further duty-bound sense of relief by silverware isn’t far away.