New striker has a Rapid change of for­tune on his way to Ibrox

but Croat shrugs off euro el­i­gi­bil­ity blow

The Scotsman - - Sport - StEPHEN HaL­L­I­day

nI­KICA Jelavic stepped onto a flight from Vi­enna to London on Thurs­day evening dream­ing of a Cham­pi­ons League de­but for rangers at old Traf­ford next month. As he made his way to bag­gage re­claim a cou­ple of hours later, a se­ries of text mes­sages in­formed him that events at Villa Park had en­sured he will have to wait un­til next year at least be­fore ful­fill­ing his am­bi­tion to play in the world’s great­est club com­pe­ti­tion.

rapid Vi­enna’s dra­matic europa League play-off vic­tory against As­ton Villa means Jelavic is in­el­i­gi­ble to ap­pear for rangers in the group stage of the Cham­pi­ons League this sea­son as he played for the Aus­trian side in their ear­lier qual­i­fy­ing round matches.

The Croa­t­ian in­ter­na­tional, poised to make his de­but for the Scot­tish cham­pi­ons against St John­stone at Ibrox to­day, will now only be able to play for his new club in europe this sea­son if they make it to the last 16 of the Cham­pi­ons League.

It is a source of huge frus­tra­tion for both Jelavic and rangers man­ager Wal­ter Smith, whose dogged pur­suit of the £4 mil­lion sign­ing was main­tained with the view the player could sig­nif­i­cantly en­hance his side in europe.

de­spite his ob­vi­ous dis­ap­point­ment at Thurs­day’s turn of events, how­ever, Jelavic in­sists he has no doubts he was right to dig in his heels and help force through his sale from rapid.

“I was on the plane to London on Thurs­day night so I couldn’t watch the rapid game,” said the 25-year-old. “When I saw the Cham­pi­ons League draw ear­lier, I was so mo­ti­vated to play, es­pe­cially with Manch­ester United in the group. Through­out the flight, I was won­der­ing what was hap­pen­ing with rapid.

“When I landed in London, I turned on my phone and there were loads of mes­sages. It said ‘1-0 for Villa’, then ‘21’ for Villa and I was think­ing ‘Yes, it’s okay’. Then the last one said ‘3-2 rapid’. It’s ob­vi­ously re­ally dis­ap­point­ing but that’s what hap­pens in foot­ball.

“To be hon­est, it doesn’t re­ally change any­thing for me as far as com­ing to rangers is concerned. I joined rangers be­cause they are a big club. They are a big­ger club than rapid. My am­bi­tions are still the same, to win tro­phies with rangers and hope­fully play in the Cham­pi­ons League in the fu­ture. I want to play well and score lots of goals. There is plenty of time to do that.

“The last month has been hard for me, very stress­ful. I’d fin­ish train­ing, turn on my phone and have ten or 15 missed calls, mes­sages ask­ing what was hap­pen­ing with the trans­fer. That’s not foot­ball. now ev­ery­thing is sorted and I’ve got a good feel­ing.”

Jelavic has de­clared him­self ready for im­me­di­ate ac­tion with rangers de­spite only hav­ing his first train­ing ses­sion with his new team-mates yes­ter­day fol­low­ing the suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of his work per­mit ap­pli­ca­tion this week. Smith con­firmed he is likely to be in­volved at some stage this af­ter­noon but could not hide his own dis­ap­point­ment at the player be­ing ruled out of his Cham­pi­ons League plans.

“I couldn’t find the rapid game on the TV, I ended up watch­ing Liver­pool in­stead,” said Smith. “Then Ally McCoist phoned me to tell me rapid had won. We knew it was a chance we were tak­ing when we signed ni­kica, but there is no doubt it is a blow to us. It leaves us a bit short and whether we can now bring any­one else in be­fore the win­dow closes on Tues­day, I’m not sure.

“If there is go­ing to be a ben­e­fit, it will be in hav­ing ni­kica fresh for the do­mes­tic games. but we weren’t look­ing for that, we would have pre­ferred to have him for the Cham­pi­ons League.”

Jelavic’s in­el­i­gi­bil­ity places greater em­pha­sis on rangers’ hopes of re­tain­ing Kenny Miller’s ser­vices. The Scot­land striker has one year left on his cur­rent con­tract and is con­sid­er­ing the club’s sec­ond of­fer of a new deal, hav­ing re­jected the first. Miller has been linked with english Premier League clubs new­cas­tle and black­burn amid spec­u­la­tion rangers would be un­der pres­sure from their bankers to cash in on him if he does not com­mit to an ex­tended con­tract.

“We have made him a new of­fer and haven’t had an an­swer yet,” con­firmed Smith. “ev­ery­body at the club wants him to sign but it is en­tirely down to how Kenny sees it him­self.”

rangers de­fender Andy Webster, mean­while, has suf­fered a fur­ther in­jury set­back with the ham­string in­jury which has side­lined him this sea­son now di­ag­nosed as a sci­atic prob­lem. Smith was un­able to put a timescale on Webster’s re­turn and the player ap­pears cer­tain to with­draw from the Scot­land squad for next week’s euro 2012 qual­i­fiers against Lithua­nia and Liecht­en­stein.

Pic­ture: SNS

Ni­kica Jelavic trained at Ibrox for the first time yes­ter­day and could fea­ture against St John­stone this af­ter­noon

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