In August last year Steven Gerrard said the following about Croatian defender Nikola Katic:
“Nikola is a player we love and admire and want to help grow and develop and that is happening. I think he’s moving along very quick and he’s come back in a really positive frame of mind after a really strong tournament with Croatia under-21s. That’s probably why we haven’t been able to introduce Filip Helander at the moment.”
Naturally, around late September, just like the previous year, Gerrard dumped Katic and replaced him with the Swede, and we’re not here to talk about the rights and wrongs of this, but to simply argue the case Rangers still have a potentially world-class centre back in the form of the giant 23-year old, and despite his form suffering (for whatever reasons) there’s no argument against how theoretically good the stopper could be.
Katic, physically, is the perfect defender. Big, strong, quick, not scared to roll his sleeves up, willing to hurt, superb in the air, and a fine team mate.
Psychologically, his weaknesses are impatience, recklessness, poor reading of the game and naivety.
In short, all Niko’s flaws are in the head, because physically he’s about as good as a defender is capable of being.
And this is why he’s so close to being what we know he can be, but he hasn’t been helped by his manager’s strategy towards him.
Gerrard explained some weeks ago the lack of patience and his over-exuberance were things the management were working on with him, and trying to coach him in, but let’s not forget how outstanding he was up till he got dropped.
While there were signs of his weaknesses, his confidence and self-belief were overriding those and letting him flourish. He was on his way to being a £10M+ defender.
Then he found himself axed – no one, to this day, can fathom why. And since then, since late September, he’s been in and out of the team and been unable to regain form, not helped by the chopping and changing.
Now, we’re not solely blaming Gerrard for this – Katic is still a professional and his form isn’t consistent any more; despite being in and out, a professional should still come in and be able to perform, where instead Katic has demonstrated a touch of weakness mentally and struggled to do so.
However, in his ‘defence’, his position is one where rotation is not beneficial, and a cohesive and consistent partnership shouldn’t be broken up all the time.
Either way, Katic is a player on the verge of being a great one, and a valuable asset.
For now he appears to have lost his way, due to a number of causes, but he has time on his side to find it again – because a Katic in top form is one hell of a stopper to have at the back.
We hope that’ll be soon.