Borna Barisic credits Steven Gerrard’s improve-or-else message with helping him become a better, stronger player this season.
Rangers’ Croatian defender was criticised by his manager – along with Eros Grezda and Kyle Lafferty – back in April.
It followed a below-par display in a training ground friendly against Liverpool’s Under-23s, in which the Light Blues were left trailing 4-0 at half-time.
Lafferty has left the club while Grezda is frozen out of Gerrard’s plans.
Barisic, on the other hand, has reclaimed the left-back spot with the sort of form which encouraged his manager to buy him for £1.8-million last season after he had stood out for NK Osijek against the Light Blues in Europa League qualifiers.
Reflecting on those dark days in April and harsh words from his manager, Barisic said: “To be honest, I don’t think it was an ultimatum.
“I had come from a league that is not too physical. One that is more technical and slower than here.
“That’s just reality, and we talked about the fact I am now a player for Rangers, and now have to play in Scottish football.
“I think the manager understood, but this is professional football and there are no excuses at all.
“It is not: ‘Oh, you come from Croatia. Perhaps you are maybe not ready to play here’.”
Then, the perception among the media and supporters was that the left-back, would be moved on in the window.
Lafferty had his contract terminated and is now with Norwegian club Sarpsborg 08.
Grezda, who was at the centre of controversy for spitting while playing for the Rangers Colts in the Challenge Cup tie with Ballymena United, has been kept out in the cold and is poised for a move to Qatar.
Barisic, by contrast, has managed to turn the situation around and force his way back into favour with Gerrard.
“It was not easy when you are listening to people talking, all these stories that they say about me,” he said.
“But I am mentally strong, and I know criticism is part of football. People even criticise Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, so it is just a normal thing.
“I knew I was always determined to be here at Rangers, that I have a lot of quality and that my problem was just one of physicality at that moment.
“The biggest problem for me was that I was getting injured all the time because it is not easy to adapt from Croatian football to Scottish football.
“When you get injured a second, then a third time, you cannot catch up.
“Pre-season was a turning point. I took no real rest but worked hard and came back twice as strong.
“That has helped me be much sharper and better adapted to playing here.”
The Croat’s turnaround has not gone unnoticed, with Steven Gerrard hailing his performance in the Europa League win against Feyenoord as his finest in a Rangers shirt.
“I don’t know if it was my best game, but I certainly enjoyed it,” said Barisic.
“European nights are special, anyway, and I think the crowd enjoyed this one because both teams played a lot of football.
“It wasn’t just people kicking the ball like, for example, our game against Livingston.
“In general, though, yes, of course, I would say I have benefited from everything from last year.
“I have seen it in the games for Rangers, and I have especially seen it when I go with the national team.
“I am stronger physically and my confidence is at a high level. I am very much looking forward not only to the rest of the Europa League but also our domestic campaign.”
Next up for Barisic and his team-mates is Thursday’s Europa League tie against Young Boys of Berne in Switzerland.
It is the second game of the group, and the hosts will have a crowd advantage, Rangers having chosen not to take tickets in the wake of UEFA sanctions imposed on them earlier in the competition.
Of more concern to Barisic will be Berne’s artificial playing surface.
“I don’t understand the use of these plastic pitches, especially when you are talking about professional football of this level,” he said.
“But we have to play on them here at Livingston, Hamilton and Kilmarnock in the Scottish league so we should handle it.”
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