They say that form is temporary but class is permanent. A year after returning to Rangers, Steven Davis is proving the theory week after week.
The Northern Irishman was heralded with great fanfare when he clinched a loan deal that brought him back to Ibrox from Southampton 12 months ago. There were soon murmurs of discontent, though, as Davis failed to immediately hit the heights expected. That, of course, coincided with Rangers’ title bid prematurely unravelling.
The fact that Steven Gerrard’s side are now firmly in the Premiership race has much to do with Davis’ personal resurgence. He is fitter, sharper, and perhaps better than ever.
Davis knows the doubts are part of life when you reach the latter stages of your career. The 35-year-old never feared he was nearing the end, though.
“That [criticism] is something that probably comes with age, unfortunately,” said Davis. “You get written off pretty quickly. Before in your career, you maybe have a dip in form and don’t get those remarks thrown at you.
“It’s part and parcel of it. I accept it and accept I probably wasn’t in the right physical condition at the time.
“In your head you probably think you are sharper than what you are. Ultimately, though, everyone needs a certain number of games to get up to speed and that was the case.
“I don’t think I am any different to any other player. You have to have belief in your own capabilities. I certainly felt I could come here and make a big impact.
“Thankfully, I have sort of carried on from the end of last season and had a strong first half of this season. Hopefully that can continue and I can keep improving as well.”
The performances that Davis has produced this season mark him out as one of the finest players in Scotland, not just one of the most influential in Gerrard’s side.
Assistant Gary McAllister claimed this week the midfielder was even better than he initially thought and Davis is relishing the role that he has been given this term.
He said: “I don’t know how good he thought I was before! My game has obviously changed. If you had said to me early on in my career that I would be playing defensive midfield in front of the back four I wouldn’t have foreseen that. I have enjoyed it. The way the team is set up, the role works well for me. It gets me on the ball and gets the team moving.
“I think it’s important at this stage of your career that you enjoy your football. That was one of the biggest factors in me wanting to come back here.
“I‘ve no idea [how long I can play on for]. I don’t want to put any timeframe on it. Obviously injuries will play a big part in how long I can play for. As long I can stay fit, I hopefully have a few years left in me yet.”
Given his form and fitness, there seems no reason why Davis has to consider hanging up his boots any time soon. The one-year contract extension he signed last month need not be his last at Ibrox.
His game has evolved through time, and so has the way that Davis approaches every day as he continues to bring out the best in himself. “It’s about the progression of education,” he said. “As you get older, things also move in terms of recovery strategies and so on. I think I’m more professional now than I ever have been. That goes with moving with the times.”
That approach on and off the park has certainly paid dividends for Rangers and Gerrard’s side – just two points adrift of Celtic – have the title firmly in their sights.
Rangers went into the winter break on the back of Old Firm victory and that feelgood factor has continued throughout the trip to Dubai this week.
Davis said: “It was a big result for us with the way the table was sitting, but that’s all it was and there’s a massive amount of work to do if we want to achieve our goals.”