HE has gone head-to-head with Joe Cole, seen Luis Suarez in full flow and rubbed shoulders with Gareth Bale. That was then, this is now, though.

The early years of Declan John’s career gave him a taste of the big time. He was still a teenager when Malky Mackay handed him his Premier League bow, and he marked his Wales debut with victory at the Cardiff City Stadium.

At 22, the left-back still has time on his side. He has been through the highs and the lows and now he has a chance to get back on track in Light Blue.

First team action has proven hard to come by in recent years and John has had to head north of the border in search of a game as he looks to play his part for Rangers this term.

It is an opportunity for him to look forward to a brighter future. He has plenty of memories to reminisce over as well.

“For someone at 17 or 18 to play their full debut in the Premier League, it was amazing,” John said. “Especially such a big game against West Ham. It was away and I think that season was a massive step up.

“From playing 21s football then jumping to first team was amazing for me. I was up against Joe Cole that day I think. I did skin him a few times.

“I played at Old Trafford. That was a massive game walking out and seeing 75,000 people.

It was amazing but I’ve heard the atmosphere is great up here. I’ve been to see the stadium as well.

“Suarez at Liverpool [was my toughest opponent]. We played them at home. We lost [6-3] He just destroyed us really. He was such a good player.

“At 17 or 18 coming up against those players, you’re a bit star struck but it will only be good for me now.”

That league debut against West Ham was the start of a dream campaign for John as he went on to make 25 appearances for club and country.

His first two calls for national service didn’t yield a cap but he would then help Chris Coleman’s side to a World Cup qualifier victory against Macedonia on his home ground.

He was accustomed to coming up against top talents but his first meeting with superstar Gareth Bale was another new experience for the man from Merthyr Tydfil.

“[I have] spoken to him a few times,” John said. “I was a bit star struck when I saw him, I’ve got to admit first of all.

“Obviously he’s a fantastic player. I think there are a few other good players in the Welsh squad.

“He’s a really nice guy, quite quiet and keeps himself to himself.

“I’ve only been in two or three camps when he was there and he was injured the other times.

“He’s down to earth. He was at Real Madrid when I was in squads with him. Like I said I was a bit star struck.”

With Premier League experience and international recognition to his credit, it seemed that John was set to continue on an upward trajectory for years to come.

But recent seasons have been less rewarding for the defender as managers have come and gone and opportunities to impress have become less frequent.

A sit down with Neil Warnock this summer didn’t give him the answers he was hoping for. Now, it is Gers boss Pedro Caixinha that he must impress.

John said: “Malky was really good. As a manager he was good.

“I was a young boy of 17 or 18 and there are a lot of players who don’t break in at that age.

For him to give me that chance, I was really happy about it.

“My view is he’s done it for me so at the end of the day he’s only going to be good for the young players coming through up here.

“At the end of the day it was more down to changes of managers. Some managers have certain playing types, certain players, personnel they like.

“I’ve done quite well when I have played but it’s just about getting that chance to play.

“At Cardiff I think I’ve played under maybe five or six managers. It’s quite tough to show the manager when you are training.

“If he doesn’t give you the chance to play then you can’t really show your talent.

“At the start of the season I had a chat with him (Warnock) and it was a case of going on loan and getting game time.”

The signing of John proved to be the final one that Caixinha completed on deadline day as he put pen-to-paper on a loan deal until the end of the campaign.

Captain Lee Wallace currently occupies the left-back berth at Ibrox but John hopes his flexibility will allow him to make his mark in Light Blue.

“He’s been here for years and he’s a really good player,” John said. “I can play two or three positions as well, not only left-back. It can be left-sided or right-sided too.

“We will just have to wait and see. I’ve never played right-back though.

“He (Caixinha) said to do well in training and show I’m ready to play. If I do that he said I’ll get my chance.

“It’s more left-back. I started as a winger a few years ago then got pushed back to left-back by Malky Mackay for that first game.

“I got stuck in that position but I can play left and side of midfield as well.”