FROM a chance meeting, a friendship has been formed. Neither knew much about the other at first, but Nikola Katic now has an appreciation of the past and Richard Gough has faith in the future.

It would be going some to suggest that Katic can have anywhere near the impact of Gough at Rangers.

But the nine-in-a-row legend is keen to help the Croatian make his own name at Ibrox.

Katic made a significant step up when he completed a four-year deal from Slaven Belupo and his first season with Steven Gerrard’s side has seen him take more strides forward than backwards.

The defender has spoken about his friendship with Gough at times this term and expressed how appreciative he is of the words of encouragement and advice. The admiration is mutual.

“I was over in Glasgow during the summer and I was staying at the Dakota hotel,” Gough said. “It was at the time when Niko was signing and his agent came over to see me and we got talking and he explained about the young Croatian centre-back he had here for Rangers.

“We got introduced and I was speaking about the Yugoslavian team that I played against before the 1990 World Cup and the Red Star Belgrade games and those stories.

“Niko was just listening. The guy then told him that I had played for the club and the next day he came to me and said ‘I didn’t know you were such a big player’. I said it was a long time ago, but that I did play in his position and then I saw him after the European game.

“I came back for the Villarreal game and travelled with the team and I was very surprised not to see him play there. He had been playing well with Connor Goldson and had been a major part of the team, the two of them did really well.

“I had a chat with him and told him to keep training well, don’t drop your head and don’t go in a sulk. I knew how he would have had been felling because he had been playing well and then wasn’t in the team.”

That night in El Madrigal was one of the most memorable of the campaign for Rangers as they returned to the Europa League.

It was the start of a difficult spell for Katic, though, as Gerrard put his faith in Joe Worrall to partner Goldson more often than not.

The 22-year-old would finish the campaign as strongly and impressively as he started it. There have been trials and tribulations, but Katic has emerged stronger for them.

“He never played for about two months and I thought that was quite unusual,” Gough said. “He is raw, he is definitely raw, but he is still young and he started the season really well.

“Maybe, if I was being critical, I would say he lacks a touch of pace. But he puts himself in positions because he reads the game well and doesn’t get caught too much.

“The main thing I said to him was to keep the head, keep your confidence, although that is difficult when you are not playing.

“I felt for the kid. He was only 21, he was in a new country and he wasn’t playing, but he had to come through it. I had a good chat with him when I came back in March and he played against Kilmarnock.

“He finished the season strongly. I knew if he got his chance and he played well that he would take it and he would make sure that the manager couldn’t take him out of the team because of his performances.”

That time out of the team could have set Katic back, but the Croatian had the mentality to keep moving forward. His patience, and hard work, were worth it as he regained a place in Gerrard’s side.

Katic has always been highly regarded by the Ibrox crowd and the faith that supporters have shown in him was repaid in the final weeks of the campaign as Rangers, especially in the Old Firm win over Celtic.

“I spoke to him about small things, like when the opposition have time on the ball, you can’t hold a high line,” Gough said. “Just wee things that I look at. You can’t try and squeeze up, you have to drop off. I said when I was his age, I used to do that as well, I wanted to smash people and get into them high up.

“But as I got older I realised that if I sat back, I can squeeze whenever I want. We had a good chat about a lot of things and I was happy for him to get back into the team.

“Over the last five or six games and, for me looking at it as a defender, he was outstanding. He made one wee mistake towards the end of the Celtic game when Odsonne Edouard beat him, but he was very good that day.

“When I watched the Celtic game, his mate from Croatia, Jozo Simunovic, had scored in his last two games and when you get that as a defender you are confident that you are going to score again.

“Katic handled him well, he cleared three or four out of the box and if he wasn’t there, I think Celtic could have scored that day.”

It was clear to see what that victory meant to Katic as he recorded his first derby win and marked the occasion with a well-earned clean sheet.

He was given extra time off by Gerrard and missed the final match of the season with Kilmarnock. After a summer of international duty, he has European and domestic goals to achieve with Rangers once again.

Gough said: “He is away with the Croatian squad for the Under-21s so Euros so I sent him a message to say good luck and to wish him well and he came straight back to me.

“I said to make sure he has a good pre-season and he will improve next year. When you sign for Rangers, sometimes your second season can be better than your first.

“He is a threat in both boxes as well and he has scored a few goals this season. Maybe his use of the ball is a bit erratic sometimes, but as a defender he is one of the best.

“If he comes back next season well and fresh, he can improve again. I know Rangers are looking at the moment to sign other centre-backs and they do need another one. If I look at it, as a supporter looking in, Katic and Goldson could be our centre-backs for the next few years.”