Domagoj Vida attracted a lot of interest at the World Cup finals and now his football heirs in Osijek are ready to show they can also turn heads.

The Croatian side, who are Rangers’ next opponents in the Europa League, are not just Vida’s old club but his spiritual home. The man whom many English sides are now eager to recruit paid a return visit to the Stadion Gradski vrt (“City Garden”) last Thursday to see Osijek defeat Petrocub of Moldova 2-1 (3-2 on aggregate) and set up a second qualifying round tie with Steven Gerrard’s side.

Vida was on the pitch before the match, displaying his old Osijek shirt and the black Croatia “away” shirt which he wore when scoring in the quarter-final against Russia and in the semi-final defeat of England. The conquering hero was given a civic reception in his home town, Donji Miholjac, the previous day and was driven in a horse and carriage through the rural village.

These days, Vida earns his living in Turkey with Besiktas, after five years with Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine. West Ham, Liverpool and Tottenham have made bids to tempt Vida into another change. Most of Croatia’s players who finished runners-up in the World Cup are now abroad and many ordinary Croats are following in their footsteps to escape the economic crisis at home.

“In Slavonia, the region [in the north-east] where Osijek come from, is where the crisis is worst,” said Juraj Vrdoljak, a football writer for Croatian website Telesport.

Slavonia may not have had much to smile about recently, but events in Russia in the last four weeks proved a welcome distraction from the struggles over everyday life.

“People are moving away to work elsewhere, either in Croatia or Europe, and in a year maybe the population there could be halved,” said Vrdoljak.

So, the return of Vida to his roots was an occasion not to be missed.

“Vida comes from a little town nearby and got a huge reception there, but NK Osijek is his ‘childhood’ club,” said Vrdoljak. “He came through the youth system there and even though he moved away to Dinamo Zagreb and then abroad, he never forgets the chance to pay a visit. He was a big hero with the fans and they liked that he was showing off his two shirts before the Petrocub match.

“His presence at the stadium I’m sure will have inspired some of the current side that they can go on a good run in the Europa League. They knocked out PSV Eindhoven last season in this stage and were only stopped from getting to the group stage by Austria Vienna on away goals.”

PSV were beaten home and away. Vrdoljak endorsed captain, Borna Barisic, who scored the winner in Eindhoven last season, as one player in the Osijek side capable of making the step up to a bigger European league. Barisic also netted the winner against Petrocub and the left-back has as much to offer in attack as defence.

“Foreign clubs like Croatian players but I think this summer maybe more will look at our domestic football for some good buys,” said Vrdoljak.

Defender Mateo Barac had a £2.5 million move to Ajax lined up after beating PSV but it was scrapped because of a heart issue revealed in the medical. Barac went back to Osijek and helped his side finish fourth in the Prva HNL and has just concluded a transfer to Rapid Vienna of Austria.

Nigerian midfielder Ezekiel Henty began at AC Milan and once had a £6m move to Lokomotiv Moscow.

“Henty’s career stagnated but he is rebuilding it in Croatia,” said Vrdoljak. “Barisic, though, is the best and at 25 is ready to move abroad.”

Osijek have turned around a grim situation from near-bankruptcy in 2015 and fan power is of huge importance at the Gradski.

“The club is one which really has a connection with the fans and they know the team can bring a glimpse of better times, which the people really need,” said Vrdoljak.

Of course, Rangers have added a Croat to their payroll with 21-year-old defender Nikola Katic being signed from Slaven Belupo, but Vrdoljak added: “I think this will be a much harder opponent for Rangers. Osijek play much better against the bigger opponents, as they showed against PSV.”