Borna Barisic is twice the man he used to be. And that has allowed the Rangers full-back to put to bed criticisms he was too half-hearted for Scottish football that dogged him throughout his first season at Ibrox. Now, the Croatian international, signed in a £2.2m deal from Osijek last summer, is on song, having his praises sung by Steven Gerrard, pictured, and delighting in a ditty that the Rangers support have created in his honour.
The turnaround is in body not mind for the 26-year-old. To do with gym, not ying and yang. “The biggest problem for me was that I was getting injured all the time because it is not easy to adapt from Croatian football to Scottish football,” Barisic said. “I came from a league that was not too much physically, more technically. It’s slower than here. So it’s not automatic that it is just reality that because you are now a player of Rangers you play Scottish football now.
“When I compare the results of my tests when I arrived with those I get now the difference is unbelievable. For example with some exercises it took 100% of my powers then, now it is taking 50%, so it is a lot better. When you get injured a second then a third time you cannot catch up. This pre-season I didn’t rest at all, I just made sure that when I came back I was very fit and sharp. I feel very good.”
Barisic is sensitive enough to have actively required to block out the questioning of his attitude and adaptability that was coming his way from all quarters – in truth – at various points last season.
“It is not easy when you are listening to people talking, all these stories that they say about me. To be honest, I don’t read newspapers, I don’t read portals [online]. I just know all the time that I have a lot of quality and that my problem was just one of physicality at that moment.
“I have strong points and I don’t care what people say. Everyone can say what they want. There are a lot of fans who sent me a lot of messages and supported me all the time and I want to say thank you for that. Criticism is normal in football. People criticise Ronaldo and Messi so it is just a normal thing. I know what I need to do to be in the best position.”
The position he has now found himself in is cult hero for the Rangers support, who have embraced him for the performance in the Europa League victory at home to Feyenoord that has set Steven Gerrard’s men up for their trip to Switzerland to face Young Boys in matchday two on Thursday, adapting Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon to fit his name. So tickled has he been, he even parked his aversion to online portals to check out the original he hadn’t known previously in concert with his team-mate, friend and fellow Croatian Nikola Katic.
“I really enjoy it,” said Barisic, whose determination to stay and cement his place despite speculation about him has paid off. “I really enjoy all of it and I say thanks. I really appreciate that. It is amazing when you play and they sing your song. That’s good.”