In February 2002, over 12,000 followers packed themselves into Fratton Park to see former Actual Madrid and Barcelona maestro Robert Prosinečki rating a scintillating hat-trick towards Barnsley. What ought to have been a simple three factors for Pompey quickly descended into lunacy as Graham Rix’s aspect threw away a two-goal result in tie the sport Four-Four. Prosi was rumoured to have left the bottom nonetheless coated in mud and barging previous the Portsmouth trustworthy, lamenting his wasted hat-trick.
In some ways, the sport signified the whole lot proper and fallacious about Prosinečki’s life in soccer. Since starting his career within the early 1990s, Prosinečki had skilled nice highs marred even larger lows. Half of Croatia’s golden era, who completed third on the 1998 World Cup, Prosinečki was as soon as tipped to be Europe’s biggest star, a title he would by no means really seize. Regardless of stints at each Actual Madrid and Barcelona, Prosinečki’s misfortune noticed him riddled with accidents and inconsistent type, thereby turning his shiny star right into a dim glow.
The begin of one thing massive
Born in 1969, Robert Prosinečki would spend the primary decade of his life dwelling in a distant village in West Germany. It wasn’t till 1979 that Prosi would transfer to Croatia, then half of Yugoslavia, and the birthplace of his mother and father, Đuro and Emilija. Fortunately the choice to uproot and transfer to Croatia turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the younger boy because it was there that he obtained the chance to hitch the youth academy of Dinamo Zagreb, one of Croatia’s most prestigious soccer groups.
Extra importantly, it introduced the chance to coach beneath the tutelage of Miroslav Blažević, a supervisor so revered in Croatia that he’s generally known as trener svih trenera (coach of all coaches). It wasn’t lengthy earlier than Prosinečki started difficult for a spot within the first staff, a chance he lastly obtained aged 18 in the course of the 1986-87 season. Prosinečki wasted little time in making probably the most of the chance. A debut aim set the scene for issues to return, or at the very least that’s what Prosinečki and his father had hoped. Remarkably, Prosinečki would solely obtain a number of extra paltry appearances in a season that noticed Zagreb end sixth within the league.
When the time got here on the finish of the season to debate Prosinečki’s new contract, a battle ensued; sadly for Prosinečki and Dinamo, this battle wouldn’t be stored behind closed doorways, with native papers publishing studies of clashes between participant and supervisor.
It emerged that Robert’s father, Đuro, was tenacious in his quest to safe knowledgeable contract for his son, an ambition that Robert quickly took up for himself. When negotiations failed for the umpteenth time, Prosinečki threatened to go away, a present of bellicosity that Blažević met with equal measure. Refusing to be bullied by a participant so younger, the ‘coach of coaches’ launched Prosi from his youth contract, claiming he would eat his teaching diploma if the younger man ever made it in soccer.
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It was a problem each participant and father have been solely too eager to take, travelling round Yugoslavia in search of a brand new staff. Prosinečki was ultimately snapped up by Pink Star Belgrade, who might barely consider their luck that a participant of Prosi’s expertise was obtainable at no cost. Judging by Dragan Džajić, the then-director of Pink Star, the membership was ecstatic:
“On one of our visits to Zagreb we stayed at Lodge Esplanade the place I acquired approached by a person who launched himself as Robert Prosinečki’s uncle. He informed me his nephew wasn’t completely happy at Dinamo and requested me if we might organize a tryout. I advised them to return to Belgrade in a pair of days and they did.
“At the tryout I saw this kid do wonders with the ball and I immediately asked our head coach Velibor Vasović to schedule an afternoon practice session at the main stadium so that I could see the kid one more time. It was obvious we had a classy player on our hands, and I initiated the contract proceedings right away. Our lawyer informed us that we wouldn’t have to pay a transfer fee to Dinamo so Robert’s father Đuro and I agreed everything in five minutes.”
Alongside fellow Pink Star midfielders Dragan Stojković, Žarko Đurović and Goran Milojević, Prosinečki quickly turned the nation’s hottest prospect, an end result that little question left Blažević with a bitter, virtually teaching diploma-like style in his mouth.
With Prosinečki pulling the strings from the guts of the midfield, Purple Star gained the 1988 championship. That season additionally noticed Prosinečki journey to Chile with the Yugoslavia youth squad for the FIFA Youth World Championship. It was in Chile that the Prosinečki star was born.
Half of a Yugoslavian aspect teeming with expertise, Prosinečki stole the limelight, profitable the event’s Golden Ball award and impressing scouts throughout Europe together with his composure beneath strain and silky play. Extremely, the youth World Cup additionally noticed Prosinečki turn into the primary participant banned from leaving a event by FIFA.
Sensing that their second spherical knockout recreation towards Membership Brugge within the UEFA Cup can be more durable than anticipated, Purple Star had tried to withdraw Prosinečki from the event early, a choice that prompted Prosinečki’s teammates to protest to FIFA officers and drive president João Havelange to intervene. The weird escapade solely served to strengthen the excessive esteem Prosinečki was held in by each membership and nation.
The years following the youth World Cup win would see Prosinečki develop his recreation, serving to Purple Star decide up league titles in 1990 and ’91. Extra importantly, Prosinečki was additionally a number one determine within the membership’s well-known 1991 European Cup victory over the high-flying French membership Marseille.
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Twelve objectives in 29 video games, a league title, and a European Cup: by any metric of success the 1990/91 season had been type to Prosinečki, and it appeared that issues would solely enhance.
That summer time, Spanish giants Actual Madrid secured Prosinečki’s extremely wanted signature for two.5 billion pesetas. In some ways the seize of the 22-year-old was an indication of desperation from Los Blancos, who had completed the earlier season third in LaLiga and had suffered a shock elimination within the European Cup to Spartak Moscow. Led by Serbian supervisor Radomir Antić, Actual have been determined to re-establish their dominance, and it was hoped that younger Prosinečki can be the person to do it.
Prosinečki’s dream transfer quickly turned a nightmare, nevertheless, with the Croat struggling damage after damage in his first season. Torn muscular tissues, strains and struggles to regain match health noticed Prosinečki miss six months of the 1991/92 season. Regardless of these setbacks, Prosinečki, together with his father Đuro at his aspect, continued on. Prosi’s perseverance would see him rating towards Barcelona in October 1992, a objective that may purchase him extra time with the Actual Madrid followers.
When the membership introduced that Prosinečki would enter the 1993 season damage free and again to full health, hopes briefly rose. Twenty-nine appearances throughout the season would see the star fail to stay as much as his price ticket, with accidents once more robbing the younger man of the continuity wanted to win over the demanding Actual followers. Certainly, three objectives was a paltry return within the eyes of many followers from a participant tipped to be soccer’s subsequent huge factor solely two years earlier.
It was a lot of the identical story the subsequent season with Prosinečki turning out 23 occasions for Los Blancos, scoring six objectives within the course of. Issues had reached boiling level for Actual followers and officers. In early 1994, Actual Madrid chairman Ramón Mendoza took to publicly criticising the Prosinečki signing, deeming him to be surplus to necessities. Mendoza’s public musings pressured the hand of Prosinečki, who agreed to hitch Actual Oviedo on mortgage for the next season in a bid to regain his type, health and popularity.
Becoming a member of Antić as soon as extra, Prosinečki’s choice was fruitful in additional methods than one. Prosinečki would end up for Los Carbayones 30 occasions that season, netting 5 objectives and serving to his aspect end ninth, forward of the likes of Valencia and Atlético Madrid. Maybe greatest of all was Prosinečki’s impressed efficiency within the Estadio Carlos Tartiere that noticed Oviedo defeat Actual Madrid Three-2. It was candy revenge for the midfielder, who lastly received the prospect to point out Los Blancos what he might do. When Prosinečki’s swansong with Actual Oviedo completed on the finish of the season, the Croat’s fame was lastly restored.
Crossing the Rubicon
In the summertime of 1995, the Spanish media was brimming with pleasure. Barcelona supervisor Johan Cruyff had snapped up Prosinečki from Actual Madrid, making him solely the fifth non-Spanish participant to cross the bitter divide.
Based mostly on Prosinečki’s time with Oviedo, the eccentric Dutchman thought he had discovered the lacking piece in his Totaalvoetbal puzzle. A shocking debut within the Joan Gamper trophy promised a lot and followers of the Catalan membership started to take a position about what Prosinečki’s arrival would imply for Barcelona. Sadly for the German-born midfielder, he was nonetheless topic to slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Accidents would once more curtail what promised a lot.
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Two seasons at Camp Nou would see him end up solely 50 occasions for Barcelona. A respective determine little question, however one far under the quantity wanted to determine your self as a Barcelona star. When the membership allowed Prosinečki to hitch Sevilla for the 1996/97 season, it appeared the Croat was destined be a part of the unhappy ranks of soccer’s nice nearly-rans. Certainly, the subsequent 5 seasons would see Prosinečki journey throughout Spain, Croatia and Belgium in search of soccer and a recent begin. Every recent begin being accompanied by a recent damage.
However earlier than soccer might overlook about Prosinečki, the 1998 World Cup got here round.
One night time in Paris
At France 98, Robert Prosinečki’s status was revived as soon as extra when he took half in Croatia’s exceptional run to the semi-finals of the event. Lining out alongside fellow stars similar to Davor Šuker, Zvonimir Boban and Aljoša Asanović, Prosinečki flourished.
Croatia’s first recreation of the event noticed them brush Jamaica apart Three-1 with Prosi dictating the sport and even notching a chic objective towards the Caribbean nation for his efforts. For a lot of, Prosi’s aim was the definitive Croatian second of the event.
Ready to take a free-kick on the edge of the field, Prosinečki frivolously tapped the ball to Robert Jarni, Croatia’s bombarding wing again, who instantly stopped the ball thereby creating a greater angle for Prosinečki to bend in a cross. As a Jamaican participant got here to shut Prosinečki down the mercurial playmaker bought an almighty dummy that introduced the ball out in the direction of the touchline. With the ball on his left foot, Prosinečki appeared up earlier than curling it coolly into the far nook of the web from an unimaginable angle, leaving Jamaican goalkeeper Warren Barrett helpless.
It was a objective that defied typical logic and confirmed the world that Prosinečki’s magic was nonetheless there. The objective additionally put Prosinečki down within the document books as the primary man to attain a aim in a World Cup for 2 totally different nations (he performed for Yugoslavia on the 1990 event).
The Jamaica match was just the start of the Prosinečki story. The subsequent recreation, a victory over Japan, noticed Croatia qualify for the second spherical of the event, with Prosinečki and Šuker the main lights. A 1-Zero loss to Argentina within the last match did little to dampen Croatian spirits who bombarded Romania within the knockout stage. Few might argue that Croatia’s 1-Zero victory flattered the Romania aspect.
For his or her troubles, Croatia have been drawn towards Germany within the quarter-finals, the identical Germany who had eradicated Croatia within the final eight of Euro 96. It was the Croatians who would style victory in France, nevertheless, with an emphatic Three-Zero victory sending them into the semi-finals towards hosts France.
The semi-final towards France was tight however thrilling. Sadly it was additionally the top of the Croatian march to glory because the hosts and eventual winners ran out 2-1 winners. Within the third-place playoff towards Holland, Croatia solidified their spot within the hearts of soccer followers throughout the globe with a 2-1 victory. Prosinečki and Šuker scored both aspect of a Bolo Zenden strike to safe a exceptional end for Croatia. Alongside Šuker, Prosinečki was one of Croatia’s stand-out gamers, one thing that gave hope to Prosi followers that he might translate worldwide success to home soccer.
On the street once more
Sadly, Prosinečki would spend the years following the 1998 World Cup wandering the footballing wilderness, bouncing from membership to membership. He had one final journey in him although, in a busy metropolis on the south coast of England.
In 2001, followers of Division One aspect Portsmouth awoke to staggering information. The membership, which had solely escaped relegation on the ultimate day of the earlier season, had signed 32-year-old Robert Prosinečki on a one yr deal. An ex-Actual Madrid and Barcelona midfielder can be enjoying at Fratton Park.
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For sure, followers of the membership swamped membership shops trying to have the identify Prosinečki printed on each conceivable piece of clothes. Pubs started to be crammed with idle speak of what new signings Robert Prosinečki and Peter Crouch might obtain. Hopes have been excessive. The transfer was not with out its value, with Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandarić shelling out over £15,000 every week to maintain the Croatian comfortable, an astronomical sum for a Division One participant on the time.
Promising leisure upon his arrival to the native reporters, Prosinečki caught to his phrase. The membership’s opening match towards Grimsby noticed the previous Actual and Barcelona man waltz across the Grimsby defence. In an act of desperation, Grimsby put two markers on Prosi for the second half; it was ineffective in taming the Croat. The gulf in school between Prosinečki and these round him was clear to see, and the midfielder reaped the advantages, having a hand in all of the objectives in an emphatic Four-2 win.
The following video games confirmed extra of the identical, together with a 25-yard dipping free-kick – a la Cristiano Ronaldo – towards Crystal Palace and a exceptional piece of wizardry towards Rotherham United. Within the recreation towards The Millers, Prosinečki despatched his marker to the ground with a chic dummy earlier than coolly ready for his him to rise from the ground and ship him on his derriere as soon as once more.
Though Prosinečki’s type dipped halfway via the season, he did handle to attain that hat-trick towards Barnsley in February 2002. Sadly for Prosinečki, the objectives dried up after Barnsley with the Croat solely discovering the web as soon as extra that season, not that followers appeared to care. The talent, glamour and vanity that Prosinečki delivered to a Portsmouth aspect that completed 17th that season noticed the Croat go down as a Pompey legend. Regardless of enjoying for the seaside membership for just one season, Prosinečki is extensively considered one of the best gamers ever to don the blue jersey.
It wasn’t simply Portsmouth followers who recognised Prosinečki’s brilliance because the midfielder’s type was sufficient to earn him a late call-up to for the 2002 World Cup. Sadly in 2002, Prosinečki would solely play 45 minutes of soccer as Croatia have been eradicated within the group levels. His inclusion within the squad, nevertheless, was a testomony to how wonderful Prosi’s type had been at Portsmouth.
The World Cup was Prosinečki’s final hurrah, with the Croat enjoying solely two extra seasons in soccer, at Olimpija Ljubljana and NK Zagreb respectively, earlier than hanging up his boots and embarking on a managerial career.
Prosinečki’s career was one of nice contradictions. For a participant labelled as damage susceptible as he was, he racked up 400 membership appearances in the course of the course of his career and scored in each season he was match. For a participant typically forgotten about, he was as soon as of probably the most extremely adorned in Europe, profitable the Bravo Award in 1991, the Franjo Bučar State Award for Sport in 1997 and 1998, alongside the Yugoslav and Croatian Footballer of the Yr awards in 1990 and 1997. For Croatia and Yugoslavia, Prosinečki gained a FIFA Youth World Championship and performed at World Cups in 1990, 1998 and 2002, to not point out Euro 96.
His early years promised a lot however so typically he fell brief of his plain expertise because of accidents and sheer dangerous luck. However the identify Prosinečki, to anybody who remembers him, is all the time accompanied with a smile. What his career lacked in trophies, it made up for in spectacular reminiscences. When Prosinečki was on type, the world took discover. Simply ask anybody fortunate sufficient to see his objective towards Jamaica, or the hordes of Portsmouth followers that maintain a particular place of their hearts for the Croat who smoked forty a day and left hapless defenders in his wake.
By Conor Heffernan @PhysCstudy