Borna Barisic has revealed how Rangers have benefited from the friendship formed in a Croatian double act.
The full-back and fellow countryman, Niko Katic, enjoyed a superb end to the year by starring in their team’s Old Firm victory at Celtic Park last Sunday.
Barisic produced a Man-of-the-Match performance, and supplied the cross that Katic headed home to win the match.
Both men are being tipped to link up for their national side at Euro 2020, and they’re heading off for warm-weather training in Dubai as heroes of the Rangers supporters.
But it hasn’t always been like that.
There have been ups and downs for both during their time in Scotland.
Barisic suffered an injury-hit first season after arriving from Osijek, and only recently became the undisputed owner of the left-back role at Rangers.
Meanwhile, Katic has had spells in and out of the side, as he coped with personal problems and his manager’s decision to choose other central defenders, principally Filip Helander, ahead of him.
He returned to first-team duty in December following the injury sustained by the Swede in the Betfred Cup Final.
Barisic says his 23-year-old team-mate finds it hard to cope with being left out of the first XI, and that’s when their friendship is particularly important.
He said: “I’m pleased for him. He’s my good friend.
“Everyone knows he has the ability to play at a very high level.
“It was very difficult for him when he wasn’t in the team.
“It’s hard for everyone when they’re not playing, but especially for Niko.
“He really lives football every day, every moment.
“Now he has another chance in the team and he’s showing everyone how good he is.
“Every day we are together, and we share everything.
“It’s very important to have a good friend when you’re in a different country.
“I’ve always said I’m very happy that he’s here, and he’s happy because of me. We can be together every day.
“We are far away from Croatia and it’s not easy in hard moments like he had for three months.
“Even last year when I was having hard times, he was supporting me. We help each other.”
The dedication shown by Katic is a quality that Barisic admires.
He went on: “Niko loves his football. He loves to work and is always 100% concentrated on his game. That’s the most important thing for him.
“He has a lot of ability. He has strength and a good leap.
“Especially in the Scottish league, that’s very important.
“I believe he will be a big player for Rangers in the future.
“He played a lot of games at first and played very well.
“He was out of the team for quite a while, but came back in and performed as if he had been playing every week. That showed how dedicated he is.”
Barisic is delighted with Rangers’ domestic form, and particularly satisfied about their progress in Europe.
The Ibrox men will take on Braga of Portugal in the last-32 of the Europa League next month.
He added: “I’m very happy with the way things have gone in the last few months. Helping Rangers get out of the group stage of the Europa League was a big thing for me.
“I wanted to show Europe that Rangers are a top team and that we can beat anyone – and not just in the Scottish league.
“We have shown our quality, and for me that’s most important.”
The two men could be lining up against Scotland next summer if Steve Clarke’s men can get through the Euro 2020 play-offs.
Barisic says his international colleagues, like Real Madrid star Luca Modric, ask him about life in Scotland and there’s one man they’re especially interested in.
He said: “A lot of people ask me about our gaffer, Steven Gerrard.
“They say: ‘How’s Stevie G?’ – then everybody talks about the weather and how it’s raining all the time!
“It’s those two things they ask about.”
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