Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Why Steven Davis must leave Rangers

Steven Davis was instrumental in Rangers' excellent Champions League draw with Valenica at Ibrox on Wednesday night
Steven Davis was instrumental in Rangers' excellent Champions League draw with Valenica at Ibrox on Wednesday night

It was THAT pass. You know the one, when Steve Davis deftly chipped the ball into David Healy’s path, allowing the Northern Ireland striker to run on and smash home a famous right foot drive that defeated England.

You could tell then that the boy from Ballymena was a class act.

Five years on he has proved us right, his latest international at Windsor Park illustrating the point, when he ran the majestic Andrea Pirlo close to being the best player on the pitch in Northern Ireland’s scoreless draw with Italy.

The Green and White Army love to see Davis with the ball at his feet because there is an expectation that he will make things happen.

He shuffles rather than glides over the pitch, but more importantly he does it at pace and with purpose. Then, of course, there is that vision to deliver a slide rule pass.

He’s not the biggest, but the 25-year-old is content to mix it with physically stronger opponents, and enjoys making tackles.

There will be plenty of those flying around on Sunday when Rangers and Neil Lennon’s Celtic meet at Parkhead in the Scottish Premier League. Something’s got to give with both winning eight out of eight SPL fixtures so far.

Davis has played an instrumental role in maintaining a perfect record for Rangers, though earlier on in the campaign he admitted that he wasn’t happy with his form.

There can be no complaints now. Modest to a fault, Davis, fast approaching 50 caps, would never tell you himself, but he has been scoring, creating and inspiring for the Gers in recent weeks.

He won the Players Player of the Year award in Scotland last season and right now is a candidate to retain it. Somehow, though, I can’t see him winning it three times in a row.

Not because he will suddenly lose his touch, but because I fancy he will be playing his football in England.

Or at least, he should be.

Talk to Davis and he'll tell you how keen he is to progress as a player.

No disrespect to Rangers, who are a great club, but if Davis stays where he is, he’ll continue to be one of the top men in Scotland but his performances will plateau rather than go to the next level, simply down to the fact he won’t be tested to his limits.

Obviously the Old Firm derby is an exception to that, but Rangers don’t play Celtic every week.

Yes, there is Champions League football at Ibrox, but only on rare occasions, possibly this season being one of them, does that adventure go beyond Christmas.

Some may suggest that Davis has been in the English Premier League and failed. I would argue against that on the grounds that two out of his four managers in England didn’t give him a chance.

After coming through the youth ranks at Aston Villa, he made his debut in 2004 against a Norwich City side, managed ironically by current Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington.

Straight away the youngster became a big hit with Villa fans, scoring goals from midfield. Strangely, while he excelled under David O’Leary at Villa, fellow Ulsterman Martin O’Neill never took to Davis, when he became boss, and a £4 million move was made to Fulham, with his old international supremo Lawrie Sanchez in charge.

Without setting Craven Cottage alight, he was a regular in the side until Sanchez was

sacked. Once again he struggled to force his way into the plans of a new manager, Roy Hodgson, and was loaned out to Rangers, where he became an instant success, helping the Teddy Bears reach the 2008 UEFA Cup final.

That summer Walter Smith, a shrewd judge, signed him on a permanent deal and since then Davis has been counting his medals, with league and Cup glory secured.

Smith quits at the end of this campaign and while incoming boss Ally McCoist wants to keep him, the time might be right for Northern Ireland’s classiest midfielder to move on.

There would be no shortage of takers in England. Many Liverpool fans would have him in a heartbeat. After all, he has far more to offer than Lucas or Christian Poulsen. Villa supporters, too, would love to see him back at his old stomping ground. Everton is another possibility.

Davis, who captained his country when he was 21, is not a money-grabber, unlike many modern day footballers, but let’s face it, he could earn much more down south.

He really should make the move in the summer. It’ll improve him as a player and Northern Ireland as a result.

For now though he’ll focus on facing Celtic, and ruining the day of another flame-haired midfielder from Northern Ireland.

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