Since his arrival at Rangers in June 2018, Niko Katic consistently flirted with his starting spot in the team at centre-back, although never fully solidified his place in the starting XI throughout the reign of the ex boss.
Known for his persistently passionate performances on the park, and his dangerous presence in the box, with a habit of bursting the back of the net with a bullet header, the Croatian centre-half quickly won over the hearts of the Ibrox faithful. This unique love for the defender was undoubtedly fuelled by social media, particularly Twitter, as the hashtag #FreeKatic trended throughout Twitter in the United Kingdom over and over again throughout the Croatian’s time amongst the Rangers squad, as fans seemed to fall reminiscently for Nikola whenever Gerrard took to the alternative options he had at the back such as Joe Worrall, or George Edmundson in the 2019/20 campaign.
Niko found his climatic moment for Rangers in the ‘New Year’ Old Firm Derby on the 29th December 2019, sending a typically terrific powerful header into the back of the net to give Rangers the winning goal at Celtic Park, their first win there since 2010, showering the goal in significance and sending the love for Katic amongst the Rangers fans soaring. Despite a poor showing for the remainder of the 2019/20 season for Rangers, with the season also being halted early due to the implications of COVID-19 breaking out over the world, the future promised to be bright for the Croatian centre back.
Unfortunately for Nikola Katic, disaster struck upon his career, as he suffered an anterior cruciate injury during pre-season of Rangers’ title-winning 2020/21 season, leaving the young Croatian to the side-lines for the full campaign as Rangers clinched their 55th league title. Nikola did not fade from the memory of the fans, with keen interest on how the defender was recovering and notably building on himself in the gym being had, to the point that many ‘Gers fans were very excited to see Katic return featuring his newfound muscular physique.
Coming into this season, SG decided in the summer that the best move for Katic would be that of a loan move, sending him off to HNK Hajduk Split in order for Niko to get some well needed game time under his belt, and hopefully to return to Rangers ready to compete, and this time solidify his place in the Rangers line-up. However, as of November 2021, a major change occurred at Ibrox as the-then manager left the club, paving the way for club legend Giovanni Van Bronckhorst to return as manager.
With this change in staff, it begs the question on whether there will still be a place for Nikola Katic when he returns to Ibrox from his time in Croatia. With Rangers slightly short on options in Katic’s position, especially with avid rumours that Connor Goldson will be leaving the club, as the vice-captain still has not to pen to paper on a contract extension, Nikola will surely be hoping that his time at the club isn’t all but over.
With Katic already having registered some impressive displays at Hajduk Split, if he can replicate his positive displays on loan for the rest of the season, he will certainly put a big question on the plate of Van Bronckhorst on whether he would like to take a gamble on the adored Croatian stopper.
Nikola Katic always wore his heart on his sleeve through good and poor performances, and was very unfortunate to be out the equation as Rangers reclaimed the role as the champions of Scotland, as having more responsibility in that historic achievement would have only left Katic even deeper in the hearts of the Ibrox faithful. In the wake of a whole new era for the club, there is no certainty on the future of any player around the club, but fans will certainly watch on eagerly to see if Katic is ‘freed’ once more.