Called another Pelé or Johan Cruyff, chain whiskey drinker Robert Prosinecki starred in the 1990 World Cup, played for Real Madrid and Barcelona but achieved legendary status at Portsmouth

He may have played for the European heavyweights, but it’s Robert Prosinecki’s time with Portsmouth that delights fans, more often than not.

When he was signed in 2001, chairman Milan Mandaric proclaimed him a “gift to Pompey fans” and it was a shock when he arrived on the south coast over 20 years ago.

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Prosinecki was a gift to Portsmouth fans and he certainly brought a lot of joy to Fratton Park

This is the story of a European Cup winner, a chain smoker, a former Real Madrid and Barcelona star, who was also named the best young player at the 1990 World Cup and probably the only human in existence to have ever been annoyed by Linvoy Primus. , aka The Nicest Man in Football™.

Having lifted club football’s biggest trophy aged 22, it’s reasonable to think Croatia international Prosinecki will have wondered where it all went wrong on February 2, 2002.

A hat-trick against Barnsley was a clear high for the 33-year-old midfielder, who dazzled at Fratton Park that day.

His second is a delight, advancing, pushing a defender away with a feint, stumbling, producing a back drag, then firing from the post from outside the box with his left foot.

The third? A superb free kick with his right foot, which saw him running towards the fans, pointing a badge in joy, before being kissed by Courtney Pitt and a young Peter Crouch. Unfortunately, everything went wrong.

Robert Prosinecki in action for Portsmouth

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Prosinecki scored nine goals in his only season with Pompey

“It felt like he was playing them all by himself,” Primus told FourFourTwo. “He scored a hat-trick and we were up 4-2 with about 10 minutes left. Then I was sent off – I can’t remember what happened, but I’m sure it was tough – and Barnsley ended up drawing 4-4.

Prosinecki would later tell Played Up Pompey, “How I wish the game had ended there and then, I’m sure the fans felt the same, but there were 21 minutes left and it didn’t turn out so happy. for any of us.

“Do you wonder how you can score three goals and not win a game? You don’t think it’s possible, but it happened that day, and in the last seven minutes of the game. Unbelievable.

“I was a bit angry afterwards, I admit, and I didn’t even ask to keep the match ball. We didn’t win, so it didn’t seem fair. I was very bored.

“To be 4-2 and draw 4-4 is football, that’s life, but it would be the only hat-trick of my career, the first and last time, and I couldn’t celebrate a victory. I was not happy!

“I left the locker room very quickly.”

Robert Prosinecki celebrates his European Cup victory

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Prosinecki won the European Cup with Red Star Belgrade

His teammate Gary O’Neil shed some light on how Prosinecki felt that night.

He told talkSPORT: “In the dressing room after the game, he just threw his boots down and looked at us in disgust, like, ‘You’re all rubbish. I just scored a hat-trick at home and we still can’t beat Barnsley.

“And then he went into the kit room with the kit man to get a cig.”

After the game, Pompey fan Rick Jackson saw his hero go home.

“He was angry – you could see it in his eyes,” he told The News. “He lit a cigarette and someone bought him a whiskey.”

Robert Prosinecki plays for Real Madrid

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Prosinecki’s other clubs included donning Real Madrid white between 1991 and 1995

Crouch, who was just 20 when Prosinecki arrived, was a player who has benefited enormously, scoring 19 goals this season, many of them assisted by the Croatian, earning a move to the Premier League with Aston Villa.

He was delighted with what his team-mate was able to do on the pitch, although he saw his career blighted by injuries during his time at Real Madrid and Barcelona.

“Robert fit the word ‘maverick’ perfectly and the only time he didn’t smoke Marlboro Red was when he was on the pitch.

“We hardly saw him in training during the week but, my God, when he played for Portsmouth he was amazing.

Robert Prosinecki resists challenge from Coventry players

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Prosinecki played in European finals, represented both Real and Barca, then later found himself facing… Barnsley and Coventry City

“He had this trick where he formed himself to shoot, feint and then roll his foot over the ball to leave the defender completely bamboozled.

“You knew it was coming, you could see a mile away what he was going to do, but it was just unstoppable.

“He must have been a spectacle in his pomp, when he played for Red Star Belgrade and Real Madrid. He was a one-man band for Portsmouth, a joy to behold.

Prosinecki knew himself that he had not reached the heights he could have reached in his career, Real lost two consecutive league titles on the last day of the season in 1991/92 and 1992/ 93, both times with defeats against Tenerife.

Coach Benito Floro even labeled him “another Pelé, another Cruyff” in 1992, but his 29 appearances have generated just three goals.

Prosinecki celebrates the 1998 World Cup goal


Prosinecki was part of the Croatian side that finished third in the 1998 World Cup where he scored in the play-off win over the Netherlands.

The year Real Madrid won the title with him on the books, he was on loan with Real Oviedo, although he did feature in at least one win against his parent club in that 1994/95 campaign.

Looking back, however, he found pride in his time at the Bernabeu: “My time in Madrid could have definitely been better, seeing as people only remember the titles you win,” he said.

“I moved there at a time when foreign players were limited, and I discovered another football, despite injuries and lost titles.”

After flirting with Atletico Madrid, he left Real for rivals Barcelona on a free transfer, but injuries kept him under Johan Cruyff, a man Prosinecki greatly admired.

Injuries struck again, and within a year and a half he was sold to Sevilla, beginning his descent from the top.

Prosinecki is not bitter about his lack of success in two world powers, he insists: “All players dream of playing for Real or Barca – I played for both! And I have wonderful memories.

“Above all, I feel like I left people there with fond memories of me. I don’t think there are many players who have worn both shirts and left good impressions at both clubs.

“These days, when I see the reception I’m getting at Madrid and Barcelona, ​​it makes me think that my time at the clubs can’t have been completely wasted.”

Prosinecki plays for Barcelona in a match against former club Real Madrid

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Prosinecki plays for Barcelona in a match against former club Real Madrid

After stints in Croatia and Belgium, he found himself at Fratton Park, despite performing well at the 1998 World Cup, where he scored twice.
It was a strange trip, and even his new teammates couldn’t believe what was happening.

Could a skillful injury-prone superstar really hack him in the Premier League? He let his feet do the talking, that’s for sure.

“He was old when he came to play for us, but he was still brilliant,” O’Neil told talkSPORT.

“When he arrived at the club I was like, ‘This is crap! He can’t run, how is he going to play for us? But he was getting the ball and you were just saying, ‘Oh my God, this guy is a genius!”

“You couldn’t take the ball away from him, he was making jumps that would fool a whole team.

“He literally couldn’t run, it was like playing football with your dad!

“But he was an amazing player. He trained at a pace he wanted to train at, he was just playing in number ten and I was running all his way, but he was breathtaking. What he did was amazing.

Portsmouth fans are in no rush to forget the season when a European Cup winner delighted them.

They actually finished the campaign in 17th position and almost exactly like his move to Real Madrid, success would come as soon as he left.

During the following season Harry Redknapp helped them gain promotion to the Premier League, Arsenal legend Paul Merson took on Prosinecki’s role as a mercurial midfielder.

The reality, however, is that he left a far greater legacy for those who ventured into Fratton Park.

He was their skillful, chain-smoker, superstar and will forever be considered a club legend.

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