Exclusive Interview: Nikica Jelavić

By Jamie Currie
 October 5, 2020

Nikica Jelavić has spent the last four years of his footballing career in China playing for Beijing Renhe and latterly Guizhou Hengfeng, and now he is back in his homeland playing for NK Lokomitva of Zagreb.

But of course, it's his Rangers career, his national team exploits and his years in the English Premier League that he is best known for. However, given the current worldwide climate, Jelavić explained how the lockdown period has been for him as a footballer and the impact it has had on his life.

The striker said: "Since I have come back to Croatia from China, I have been busy – flying all over Croatia. I am involved in a new project with buildings and I have to be there every day to control things.

"I came back to Croatia about a month ago and I had terminated my contract in China and signed for Lokomotiva; I am 35 now and, I wanted to enjoy my football."

Jelavić is happy

Even though Jelavić is happy to have moved back home, he certainly doesn't regret the years of his career playing in China.

He explained: "It was a great experience to be able to learn something different, something unusual. China is like a different world – different food, different mentality, different everything. I am actually glad I spent my time in China and I made many friends.

"But it is difficult being so far away from home, away from family and friends, but to learn a different culture, meet new people and learn about their mentality, at the end of the day, it was a great experience."

Jelavić got back to China the day before the lockdown and even though, he hasn't played in any games without fans as yet, he is hoping the COVID-19 situation will get better to allow players and fans the chance to share the love of football inside a stadium once again.

"The Chinese League started a month ago so I haven't played this season at all because I left before the season started. It is difficult to play without people in the stadium – it's like a training game but hopefully everyone will be able to get the COVID situation under control and allow fans to return. But I have to say China is doing well now and have the situation under control far better than some other places."

Moving on to his time at Rangers the hitman spoke with a glowing fondness and pride about his time at Ibrox, which gave him one league winner's medal and a League Cup medal too. Although he was quick to shoot down the press rumours at the time that he had threatened strike action against his old club Rapid Vienna in order to push through his £4million move to Ibrox in August of 2010.

Rangers

The striker adamantly said: "Who can refuse to play? To be honest, this is bullsh*t! If you refuse to play they can punish you, fine you and put you into the second team and maybe not sell you at all. "

He continued: "This is all made up. Fake news. The club is the one who will decide if I would leave or not, and I do not want these rumours to destroy my two years of memories in Vienna with Rapid."

Jelavić eventually got his move to Ibrox and it was an old friend and Bosnian cult hero who brought the Croat to the attention of the Rangers management team at the time.

Saša Papac said to Ally McCoist

Jela recalls: "Saša Papac said to Ally McCoist jokingly 'I have a striker for you.' At the time I had scored two goals against Celtic for Rapid. We, then, started talking about a deal and that's how it started with Saša and one of his jokes and then it ended up with me signing for Rangers.

"We are still very good friends [Papac and Jelavic]. Our wives are close, our families are close and we live quite close to each other; I was speaking to him the other day and he's doing well."

Jelavić took to the field in a Rangers shirt of 56 occasions, scoring 36 goals and assisting nine from August 2010 until he was sold to Everton in January of 2012, but the fans' favourite couldn't pick out a favourite Rangers memory; instead, he gushed about the time he had at the club.

He said: "There are far too many memories just to pick one best one. I won the cup and the league. When you get to that club you realise how big it is. I am so glad I got to play in that team that went on to win the league and the cup that season.

"It was especially nice because I got to work with Walter Smith he is a big character and a gentleman. Without him I don't think winning those trophies would have been possible.

"Listen, he [Walter] was tough when he needed to be tough. But he was the nicest person when he needed to be – a gentleman. He balanced those two things well. Walter Smith is one of my favourite coaches."

League Cup final 2010/11

Jelavić remembers one goal well; the winner in the League Cup final in extra-time during the 2010/11 season.

"Oh my God. I remember that goal. The ball hit the post and came back out. I was trying to get to it again and it felt like it took forever to cross the line. I didn't know where to run – I was flying after that. I thought the ball was never going to go in. It was the luckiest strike of my career!

"I think Steven Naismith was trying to help me keep my shirt on as I had already had one yellow card. It was a really nice memory."

Croatians have always done well at Ibrox and despite Jela not seeing much of Steven Gerrard's side he believes that the club have a gem in Borna Barisic and he hopes he will remain at Rangers for a long time.

"I am really happy to see Rangers back where the club belong but I haven't seen much of Rangers' games recently because it is hard to get any coverage in China.

"I am following the team now that I am back in Croatia and also because of Borna Barisic. Listen, Borna is a fantastic lad, and a fantastic player. It means something to play for Croatia and to play for Glasgow Rangers. He's one of the best left-backs in modern football at the moment.

"He can help Rangers of course, and I think he has the mentality to go very far. Does the owner want to keep him or will the offer be too big to turn down? Hopefully from my point of view, as a fan, I hope we can keep him."

"It's great for Croatians to join that club; we had Dado Pršo, myself, Niko Kranjcar and Borna - everyone accepts you and makes you feel welcome, especially the fans so it was easy for me to adapt, but I cannot say Croatians have a certain characteristics which makes them settle well everywhere."

Jelavić has his outside interests but he is yet to make his debut for NK Lokomotiva yet and is hoping to enjoy his football and he also finished by expressing his desire to go into coaching when he finally hangs up his boots.

"Listen, I don't know. It's still to early to decide if this is my last season. I want to enjoy some football right now and later I am going to go for my coaching licence but I am hoping to get back to get playing my football just now.

"Maybe when this COVID situation is over, I will get back to Ibrox to watch Rangers again."

Jamie Currie - @jamiecurrie89

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