Former Rangers midfielder Dragan Mladenovic’s Ibrox career may have gone up in smoke after his £1.1million move from Red Star Belgrade 18 years ago.
But the 46-year-old is adamant that the Serbs are ready to set the Europa League on fire next week and leave their own lasting impression on the Light Blues’ backing.
Mladenovic is now Red Star’s academy manager and is eager to see two of his former sides battle it out for a place in the quarter-finals.
As he speaks fondly of his short spell in Glasgow after Alex McLeish splashed seven figures to lure him out of his native country in the summer of 2004, the former Serbia and Montenegro international is not hiding the fact that he supports Dejan Stankovic’s team to progress.
The key to those hopes, he insists, is keeping a cool head in the sizzling atmosphere of Ibrox tomorrow night.
Much like Rangers, who are in the midst of a frenzied title fight with Celtic, Red Star are chasing fierce rivals Partizan in the Serbian SuperLiga knockout stages, trailing by two points.
But they have some serious star qualities on their side, none more so than the double act of midfielder Aleksandar Katai and Mirko Ivanic who between them have scored an incredible 38 goals from behind the front line this season.
It’s that kind of threat in Belgrade’s ranks – along with Aleksandar Dragovic’s experience in the heart of defense – that convinces Mladenovic that his host club will prevail in both games.
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Not that he wrote off Rangers in any way, with Ryan Kent identified as the biggest threat.
Mladenovic, who made just nine appearances for McLeish’s Gers in the 2004/05 season before returning to Belgrade, feels it’s crucial the Serbs keep a cool head in Govan’s frenetic European atmosphere.
Do that and he has warned Rangers they will face a heavy task at the Marakana Stadium seven days later.
He said: “Red Star definitely have a chance to progress against Rangers. They were happy in Glasgow with this draw which gives them perhaps the best chance of qualifying.
“But Red Star can look for their luck in individual quality – Rangers currently don’t have players like Katai and Ivanic.
“These two can definitely break the game. Considering the form they showed in the previous part of the championship, I have high expectations.
“Also, there is Aleksandar Dragović, who gave the reds and whites much-needed experience and stability in defence.
“Red Star have serious experience and continuity in the Europa League and the Champions League, and they have built up some credibility for themselves, so they are by no means an outsider.
“If Red Star faces the speed of Rangers and the pressure from the stands at Ibrox, they will have a chance.
“I expect two good games. Nothing will be decided in the first game, the winner will be decided on our pitch.
“What is important is that the end result is such that Red Star goes further.
“What’s also important is that the team doesn’t lose their minds regardless of the score.
“Rangers will have home advantage in the first game, they play in front of their fans, and in the end we will have the support of our fans in the second leg.
“The atmosphere will be fantastic. The stadium is beautiful, there is a lot of contact with the fans who are literally two meters from the pitch.
“The situation is similar to ours in Marakana. I have no doubt that the atmosphere will be incredible.
Rangers’ victory over tournament favorites Borussia Dortmund in the final round sent shockwaves across Europe.
Certainly, the result was not missed by Dejan Stankovic’s team. But if anything, it could serve to bolster their preparations for Thursday’s first leg in Glasgow and remove any element of surprise from the hands of rangers.
Mladenovic believes Rangers’ biggest threat is the pace and aggression they used to bring down the Bundesliga giants.
But he’s not convinced the 6-4 aggregate was quite the giant he was billed for.
He said: “The fact that Rangers beat Borussia Dortmund is a great result, but it wasn’t Borussia, they played without Erling Haaland, it was obvious they were in crisis.
“Rangers used every error in the opposition’s defense and deservedly won.
“They play faster and more aggressively, the quality is indisputable.
“They have several experienced players – James Tavernier, Ryan Kent who is excellent in the side, Aaron Ramsey and Steven Davis.
“The game is going to be great. There will be a lot of attacking football which characterizes both teams.
“I think there will be an active result in both games and only the second will decide who will be in the quarter-finals.
“Rangers will definitely come to Belgrade to win.”