THE quality and the character that Nikola Katic possesses has never been questioned by Nenad Gracan.

And the Croatian Under-21 boss is now pleased to see Katic’s talents being spotted further afield as he makes his name with Rangers.

When Katic moved from Neretvanac Opuzen to Slaven Belupo three years ago, it was a small step in his career. His second switch, the one that took him to Ibrox last summer, was more significant, however.

It has allowed the 22-year-old to improve as a player and grow as a person and his first campaign under the guidance of Steven Gerrard must be considered a success.

Evening Times:

READ MORE: Croatia Under-21 boss Nenad Gracan backs Borna Barisic to prove himself in his second season with Rangers

With those games and those experiences behind him, Katic is now preparing for a summer on the international stage as part of the Croatia squad for the European Championships in Italy and San Marino.

And boss Gracan has no doubt the defender will continue to impress after an encouraging term at Ibrox.

“I was certainly pleased to see one of our young players performing well at a club as big as Rangers,” Gracan, a former manager of Hadjuk Split, Dinamo Zagreb and Rijeka, said. “And it was a pleasant surprise to see how well Katic has been adapting.

“Katic is a big professional and he has a strong sense of character, and the respect he shows towards his coaches and team-mates is a testament to his personality. I believe his coaches at Rangers must also be pleased with these traits.

“I think he has a lot of mental strength, and he does a lot of work individually on getting even better and on fixing any weaknesses he might have. He’s still very young, and I expect to see him grow a lot and get better and better with each day.

Evening Times:

READ MORE: Lizzie Arnot - Dame Katherine’s tips can keep us on an even keel in France

“I selected him because he has talent and quality, but also because he’s been playing a good number of games and has gotten into a competitive rhythm. He’s getting playing time in a club that competes at a high level, and this is something that my coaching staff and I are always looking for.”

Rangers may have ended the campaign empty-handed, but there were positives for Gerrard and his staff to take and reasons for supporters to be optimistic going forward.

Katic established himself in the opening months but then found the going tough at times as he was overlooked for a Light Blues starting spot.

He would finish the season as impressively as he started it as his patience and perseverance paid off.

Gracan said: “It’s perfectly normal for every player to want to play and to want to be fielded - no one likes sitting on the substitute bench, and it’s tough on a player’s self-confidence when they’re stuck there for prolonged periods of time.

“But what players need to realise - even though it’s perhaps hard for them to look at it this way - is that the eleven players who start the match are not the only ones who are important to a team. Players who aren’t getting playing time at that particular moment are still a vital part of the team and help motivate those who are playing during training sessions.

Evening Times:

READ MORE: Boyd: Leaks don't matter ... as long as Celtic sign the best players

“He’s a very young player and I think he has room to grow and get even better. I think that if he gets fielded a lot during his second season and gets into the rhythm of playing challenging matches, it’s going to be a great opportunity for him to develop further. He’s shown that he can cope with the demands of playing in a big club - and Rangers is truly a big club in every sense of the word. I think he’s going to be able to rise to any challenges that are put in front of him.”

After playing his part in the Old Firm win at Ibrox, Katic was given an early finish by Gerrard as he missed the trip to Kilmarnock last month.

The Europa League qualifiers are on the horizon, but Katic has international challenges to focus on first.

Gracan said: “I think every single player on our squad list will be important for us, so I don’t want to give these kind of predictions for any one of them individually.

“Croatia is back at the Under-21 Championship after 15 years, and I know the entire team can’t wait to get to Italy and San Marino.

Evening Times:

READ MORE: Daniel Candeias is content at Rangers as he targets Premiership title win

“Even placing at this tournament is a success because it includes a very small number of teams, and then we’ve also got a difficult group ahead of us - England, France, and Romania are all excellent, strong teams.

“However, now that we’ve finally managed to place at the final tournament, I know we all want to get a good result, and I know the players will be motivated and disciplined.

“For now, we’re focused on making sure that we win our first match, because I know that will make it easier for us going into the following two group stage matches.”