Steven Gerrard singled out Ryan Jack for lavish praise after Rangers progressed in the Europa League, expressing both admiration and envy of the midfielder’s display.
Rangers manager Gerrard, regarded as one of the finest midfield operators of his generation during his career with Liverpool and England, paid Jack the ultimate compliment after a 1-1 draw at Ibrox secured a 2-1 aggregate win over Osijek in the second qualifying round.
“As a midfielder, I was jealous of Ryan Jack’s performance tonight,” said Gerrard. “It was stunning.
“I had watched Ryan from the outside before I came here and I knew about his big move from Aberdeen. But it’s not until you get close up to these players that you see what they are about and how hungry they are, how they live their lives.
“I think I have got a good type on my hands there. He is a player who cares, who wants to win and is prepared to go out on the pitch and do exactly what you have asked of him.
“He made one minor mistake there in 90 minutes in a big football match. This is a kid who missed six months through injury at the back end of last season. I am delighted with Ryan’s performance.”
Leading 1-0 from the first leg in Croatia, Rangers doubled their aggregate lead through Nikola Katic’s 53rd-minute goal. But Osijek captain Borna Barisic’s 89th minute strike – the first goal Rangers have conceded under Gerrard – ensured a nervy finale.
“I’m very pleased to get through,” said Gerrard. “I thought we played against very dangerous opponents, a good team, a strong team with a lot of threats. But over the two legs we did exactly what we wanted to do and needed to do.
“We were a little bit tense at the end because we didn’t take the chances that we created for ourselves. But in the main I’m delighted with where we are and how far we’ve come in a short space of time. We’re building character and momentum. I’m happy.”
Osijek had made confident and, at times, mildly insulting noises in the build-up to the match and Gerrard was satisfied by the response of his players.
“Talking doesn’t win you football matches, it doesn’t get you results,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t help your players, it just motivates the opposition.
“We thrive on all that kind of talk. We enjoyed it. My players came out and played like men and we did our talking on the pitch. I’m absolutely delighted with the players and now it’s all about dusting ourselves down for a big game against Aberdeen at the weekend.”