The conundrum of how best for Rangers to derive a real impact from Steven Davis will only be solved if there is full recognition of the sort of role that suits him best at the age of 34, according to Eric Black.
As assistant manager at Southampton, Black witnessed the best of Davis two seasons ago, with manager Claude Puel appreciating that it was his efficiency and endeavour that had to be properly harnessed to bring a fluency to the English Premiership team.
It is expected the Northern Ireland captain will extend his loan period into next season. And, despite the indifferent spell he has had since returning to the Ibrox club amid much fanfare in January, Black, above, believes he can be a hugely influential figure for Steven Gerrard’s team, both on and off the pitch, next season, if he can be allowed to get back in the groove.
His former coach considers Davis “one of the best professionals I have worked with”, who had “a rigid programme that he put his body through and clean living geared towards maximising how he performs”. This is not as a flashy playmaker or a midfield scrapper but as a central performer who can act as his team’s metronome.
“He was outstanding at Southampton for about two or three years,” said the 55-year-old. “Latterly, the shape of the team changed a bit under Mauricio Pellegrino and Steven’s role changed with it. He dropped down to the bench a bit more.
“He is not a young player any more. But he is a fabulous individual to have in your team to circulate and dominate possession. He is a fantastic footballer who plays off both feet.
“He has an enormous influence on the game in terms of keeping the ball. People might now be saying that he has not done this or that, but Steven was never really a No 10. He is not someone who is going to give you five final passes every game and score 18 goals in a season. That’s not him.
“But what he will do is have a massive influence on your team in terms of how you circulate the ball and dominate the game. I don’t know the ins and outs of what’s happened at Rangers. But Steven Davis can be very proud of everything he has done and how he conducts himself.
“We played him at Southampton in a three at times. He is not going to get up to people and take the ball away from them. He is physically not big enough, quick enough or strong enough to be that aggressive kind of player.
“But, tactically, he is absolutely brilliant. And he is selfless with it as well. He positions himself in such a way that it doesn’t become a physical challenge but the opposition player still can’t pass the ball forward. He uses his experience, his knowledge of the game and all his assets to do the things he needs to do.”
If Rangers are to come within tangible reach of being a genuine title challenger to Celtic next season – as chairman Dave King didn’t quite say this week, but perhaps should have – then having trusted heads such as Davis will be required. Regular game time is all that Black believes has handicapped the player in the past year of his career.
“People will say Steven is not a leader because he is not that vocal but he is a leader through his actions,” Black added. “He had a massive influence at Southampton. That can start to deteriorate when you are not playing every week but Steven didn’t let it affect him in that way. He remained the consummate professional.
“It was then the dream move for him to come back to sample life at Ibrox again. He will be fine. He is a top footballer and a top individual.”