Calvin Bassey: The unknown who came of age in Europa League run
Two years ago, Calvin Bassey was in Leicester City’s reserves. Little over 12 months later, he was one of five Rangers players suspended for breaking lockdown rules.
Yet on Wednesday night in Seville, the 22-year-old was being described as a “colossus” and “outstanding” for his performance in the Europa League final.
The left-back turned domineering centre-back was viewed as a weak link in the Rangers team 18 months ago after joining as an unheralded free transfer, but has been utterly transformed this season.
Now the Nigerian international suddenly looks like one of the Ibrox side’s most prized assets, with the likes of Ally McCoist, Mark Hateley and Owen Hargreaves all cooing over his performance and what might come next for him.
“Calvin Bassey has been absolutely phenomenal,” McCoist said on BT Sport. “He has been a colossus this evening.”
Bassey was excellent against Eintracht, just as he has been throughout Rangers’ run to the final. He won seven of his 11 duels on the night, four of his five aerially, won possession back nine times, and made three interceptions.
Twice in extra time, with other players going down with cramp, he made two incredible recovery runs. First, after losing his footing he hared back to make a crucial tackle to stop a close-range shot.
Then a few minutes later, he chased down Ansgar Knauff and stopped the wing-back getting a free effort at goal.
Those were just a couple of examples of him using his athleticism, and there were countless others as he used sheer brute strength to defend stoutly. But he is also comfortable on the ball and in previous rounds demonstrated his ability to drive forward from the back.
It was not perfect from Bassey. Rafael Borre snuck across him in the six-yard box to score the equaliser, but he would perhaps have expected the cross to be stopped at source or Connor Goldson to intercept at the near post.
‘I imagine a lot of clubs are looking at him’
Much has been made of the fact Rangers’ ever-present centre-back Goldson is out of contract at the end of the season, but the club might have to worry about Bassey having suitors, too.
It is even more remarkable given he has come from the fringes. Bassey started as Steven Gerrard rotated his XI for a League Cup quarter-final against St Mirren last season, and was all over the place before being substituted early in a 3-2 defeat.
Four months later, he was part of the group who received a six-game ban for breaching lockdown rules by attending a party and looked out of the picture altogether. He made seven appearances – four of them starts – as Rangers won the title with Borna Barisic as the starting left-back.
Bassey assumed the role in the early months of this term as the Croat struggled for form and fitness but found himself shunted infield after the arrival of Giovanni van Bronckhorst and has made the new position his own. He kept Filip Helander out of the team when he briefly returned from injury, and has left Leon Balogun stuck on the bench.
The good news for Rangers is he is under contract until 2024, and can expect to command a good fee having signed him on a free transfer from Leicester in July 2020.
“Bassey has come so far, so quickly,” former Rangers striker Mark Hateley said on BBC Scotland’s Sportsound. “He’s established himself as a centre-half, wing-back, full-back. He’s put himself in a place right now where I imagine there’s a lot of clubs looking at him. He’s still only 22-years-old. He has been outstanding.”
Former Manchester United and England midfielder Owen Hargreaves agrees.
“Calvin Bassey, my word, what a performance,” he said on BT Sport. “That was astonishing, the energy and effort. Everything about his game was fantastic. Anyone watching that will be thinking: ‘That’s the kind of player I want in my team’.”