James Sands made such an impression on his New York City debut that one of the best midfield players to play the game was instantly amazed.
He also gave David Villa a thing or two to think about with his performance as a 16-year-old and sporting director David Lee revealed everyone knew right away they had a brilliant player.
He signed a five-year deal last year but it came with the knowledge that the club would be happy to let him head to Europe if an opportunity arose.
It did when Rangers came calling and he signed an 18-month loan deal with an option to buy at the end of it and if he’s as good as those involved in New York City think he is, then he’s sure to be a permanent player at Ibrox after that.
Lee recalls watching Sands on his debut and they instantly had to figure out a way to get him first team football because he had impressed the likes of Villa and Patrick Vieira so much.
Lee told the Athletic: “We saw that we really had a really fantastic person on our hands first but also a phenomenal player on our hands.
“He settled into the group really quickly and performed excellently in training and the games as well. From there on we were looking at how do we give him the right pathway, get him into our first team and give him the journey he deserves?
“Everybody was so impressed. There is a relatively famous moment, inside New York City FC at least, that everyone will remember.
“James was 16 and played as a holding midfielder and was just fantastic. It was a packed stadium and an incredible atmosphere, he was the most calm player on the pitch. After the game Patrick and even David Villa said, ‘Ooh, this boy has something really special’.”
Although he played that game in defensive midfield, he’s also been used at centre back and at right back and Lee admits his versatility helps him.
He was a regular as Ronny Deila’s men lifted the MLS Cup and he explained how he was capable of playing anywhere because he’s so tactically aware.
That’s good news for Giovanni van Bronckhorst who will be looking to fit him into a Rangers side that has been impressive since he took over.
Lee added: “Tactically he is outstanding. He reads the game fantastically well and he’s technically excellent whether playing centre-back or midfield. They’re the things that can sometimes go unnoticed but they don’t when you work with him. He’s worked with three head coaches now and everyone has tried to find a way to put him in the team as he helps the team regardless of position.
“It all depends on the team and system you play. He went to the national team and played in midfield and then in a back four and a back three so even at that level they’re valuing his versatility. It’s difficult to say he’s better in one position but what he does do is give coaches options and decisions in-game to move him into other positions to change shape, the tempo of the game without having to make a sub as he can adapt so quickly.
“We were all really proud when he went to the national team in the summer as we felt he probably deserved a call-up slightly earlier since his performances have been so good for so long. To see him win the Gold Cup and be a key part of the team was really fantastic for us and just reward for how well he has played.”