THE physical stature - the pace, the power, the build - marked Calvin Bassey out as a kid that was one day destined for the Premier League.

But it is his mental strength and his desire that will play just as big a part in taking him all the way to the top as the former Leicester City starlet comes to a crossroads in his Rangers career.

Steve Beaglehole helped Bassey during the first years of his journey as his raw attributes were honed and his knowledge of the game refined within the Foxes' academy system.

Bassey wanted to play first team football and his mentor knew that he was good enough to one day live the dream. But he had to hit the road to arrive at his desired destination as Ibrox became his next stop.

A move to Rangers was never seen as a step back by Bassey. Instead, it has allowed him to stride forward and he is now arguably the most prized asset within the Ibrox squad as clubs from England's top flight keep close tabs on a rising star of the European game.

"He had the opportunity to sign a good contract with Leicester but he stuck to his guns," Beaglehole, the former City Under-23 boss, told Herald and Times Sport of Bassey's decision to move to Rangers in the summer of 2020. "It wasn’t about money, money never came into it.

"He said he thought he had more chance of training with the first team and playing with the first team at Rangers than at Leicester. That is what it was about.

"To move up to Scotland takes a lot of courage and he has proved that the decision making has been one of his strengths. He has gone up there and worked hard and the club have been great with him.

"His improvement has been stunning and that is a credit to the staff there at the club and how they have looked after him. I certainly wish him well.

"He is a strong character and what I liked about him is that you could really have a go at him, you could leave him out, and the next day he would turn up and still have that big smile. That smile is something you really warm to.

"I used to laugh and say ‘have you had your teeth whitened again?’ and he would just say ‘no, they are natural but you can get yours done!’ He is a great lad and it is great to see him performing like he is at Rangers."

The beaming whites of Bassey have become a regular sight at Ibrox this season. In terms of smiles per gallon, few have given Rangers fans as many reasons to be cheerful as the 22-year-old that stole the show on the run to Europa League agony and Scottish Cup glory last week.

His rise and rise has already caught the attention of Aston Villa and Fulham and Rangers now face a fight to retain the services of a defender that has shown his ability and his versatility by performing with aplomb at left-back and centre-back for Giovanni van Bronckhorst's side.

"I am pleased to see Calvin doing so well for Rangers but I am disappointed that we lost him when we did," Beaglehole said. "He was one that I knew would get in the first team at Leicester but unfortunately we lost him.

"He could well end up back in the Premier League because his two performances in the Europa League and Scottish Cup finals were fantastic.

"It is interesting, and I have laughed with him when he has texted me back, because I asked him if he remembered when I said that centre-half could be his best position and he refused to play there? Now I might be right! We had a bit of banter with that.

"His performances this year have been outstanding. Maybe people questioned whether he could go in and play at that level at centre-back when he hasn’t played there as much as he has at left-back.

"To go in there and play like that in a back four is testament to himself and to the work that has been done there at Rangers."

Bassey's first campaign at Ibrox saw him play his part as title 55 was won but there were few pointers that would have suggested he would improve and impress as much as he has second time around.

The Nigerian defender was named in the Europa League Team of the Season as his efforts against Eintracht Frankfurt were not rewarded with the silverware and a place in Ibrox folklore.

Beaglehole said: "His story is quite phenomenal, really. We got him out of London when he was 15, 16 and he had not been at an academy.

"He has played Under-23s and went up to Rangers. He wasn’t getting in early on as much as he would have liked but he got his opportunity and it has been a phenomenal season for him.

"I was gutted that he didn’t win the Europa League, I thought he deserved to. But him for him to get to the final and play so well in it is great and to have people like Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist talking about him being a colossus, that says it all.

"It was a big decision for him to leave London and come up to Leicester, and then a bigger decision to go up to Rangers. He is very strong minded and focused in what he wanted to do."

That strength of character has stood Bassey in good stead. There have been trying moments at Ibrox, but he continues to rise to the challenges and occasions.

Had he made a different choice two years ago, he could have been pushing for a place in the Foxes side under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers. But it is Van Bronckhorst who has got the best out of him and allowed him to fulfil his potential this term.

"He was a bit of a Jack the Lad, which I liked, coming out of London," Beaglehole said. "Sometimes the academy lads that come through at eight or nine, they are driven to each training session in a nice car and everything is comfortable.

"I think sometimes if you get a player like Calvin who has had to come up, his mum brought him up well, and he hasn’t had it easy, they become more streetwise. I could see the difference with him.

"We had ups and downs with him and I lost it with him a few times. I left him out.

"He didn’t want to play centre-half so I put him on the bench because Luke Thomas, who has played 50-odd games now in the Premier League, kept him out.

"Interestingly, Bassey would have got in our first team. Brendan said that to me. He would have got in. He had seen him playing and he would have played.

"But, at the time he wanted guarantees and Brendan said he couldn’t guarantee that to any player. If you are going to play, it depends on how you play.

"So he made the decision to leave. I was disappointed to lose him but he has done so well for Rangers."