Chain-smoking playmaker Robert Prosinecki

Representing Real Madrid or Barcelona often represents the pinnacle for professional footballers, the Spanish soccer superpowers possessing a grandeur and allure the envy of the world game.

Those adorning the duo’s colors must be some of the best in the game, so to have turned out on both sides of the El Clasico split, it’s fair to say that Robert Prosinecki possessed enormous talent.

Prosinecki was part of the legendary generation of Croatian talent, part of the team that finished third at the 1998 World Cup in France, scoring two goals as the Croatians reached the final stages before the loss to France.

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Prosinecki was a good footballer, but his career has since been defined by a series of anecdotes about a talent that failed to reach the heights expected.

Born in West Germany, he moved to what is now Croatia a decade later when his Yugoslav parents returned to their birthplace.

Signed to football’s talent factory that is Dinamo Zagreb, he rose through the ranks under Miroslav Blažević – a manager who would leave an indelible impression on his career.

After scoring on his debut, Prosinecki made just one more appearance for Dinamo, with talks over a new contract ending in a dispute between club, player and manager and the talented youngster is left to sign for Red Star Belgrade.

Prosinecki’s demands for a professional contract had angered Blažević, who released the midfielder from his youth contract in a statement indicating who was in charge.

It was a decision the club would regret.

Red Star provided Prosinecki with the platform to realize his talents, with the youngster rising to prominence after winning the Ballon d’Or award as the tournament’s best player while representing Yugoslavia at the FIFA World Championships. youth of 1987.

Playing alongside an exciting midfield contingent at club level, Red Star were crowned champions this season in what proved the start of a meteoric rise for the team.

Further league titles followed in 1990 and 1991, the second accompanying Red Star’s greatest ever triumph as Marseille were beaten in the European Cup final.

Vladimir Jugović, Prosinečki and Dejan Savićević have formed a midfield trio that has become criminally underrated among European records, with Prosinecki scoring 18 goals in all competitions as the flowing blonde-haired technician has emerged as the most exciting from Eastern Europe.

To no one’s surprise, interest from the west of the continent arrived and Real Madrid secured the signing of the gifted midfielder, sealing the signing of a 22-year-old who finished 1991 fifth in Ball voting Golden.

The dream move quickly turned into an injury-ravaged nightmare as Prosinecki’s body let him down in a debut season in which he made just five appearances in all competitions.

With Barcelona dominating the Spanish landscape, the footballer Real hoped could loosen the Catalan’s grip on the title was limited to a watchful term.

The next two seasons saw Prosinecki feature more prominently, but he failed to deliver on the hysteria that had greeted his arrival in the Spanish capital with his modest performances at best.

His fortunes hit a nadir when the Real hierarchy criticized his signing and he was loaned out to Real Oviedo in a bid to regain the consistency – both fit and fit – that had abandoned him at the Bernabeu.

The move proved positive as Prosinecki linked up with former Madrid manager Radomir Antić, restoring his reputation, including an outstanding performance as Oviedo beat his parent club 3–2.

However, hopes of a return to Real failed to materialise, with the midfielder instead completing a controversial move to rivals Barcelona as Johan Cruyff sought to make the most of a maverick who had lost his mojo.

Injuries again decimated his chances of shining in the Spanish superpowers, spending less than two seasons at Barcelona before moving on to a short spell at Sevilla, later bouncing around in a succession of clubs as his once limitless potential remained untapped.

He made a return to Dinamo in 1997, where his performances saw him part of the Croatian squad that traveled to France for the ’98 World Cup in France, having been admired on his major tournament debut as an independent nation in the European Championship. two seasons earlier.

In France, Prosinecki shone.

Thriving in a talented squad alongside Davor Suker and Zvonimir Boban, Croatia cruised through the group stage quickly with Prosinecki finding the net with a wonderful feint and curling effort in their opening win against Jamaica.

After scoring for Yugoslavia in the 1990 World Cup, he became the first – and remains the only – player to score in a World Cup final for two different nations.

Romania were beaten in the round of 16, before a 3-0 thrashing against Germany in the quarter-finals gave clear evidence of Croatia’s intentions.

Their run was halted by France after a thrilling semi-final, before sealing third place with victory over the Netherlands in the third/fourth play-off with goals from Prosinecki and Suker against the Oranje.

Hopes that Prosinecki’s fine performances at the World Cup might revive his club career proved short-lived, as he remained in Croatia and Belgium before becoming a shock signing for Portsmouth.

Once hailed as the future of European football, the veteran has found himself in the spotlight at Fratton Park in England’s second tier, his arrival hailed as a “gift to Pompey fans” by chairman Milan Mandaric.

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He only spent one season on the South Coast, but it was enough to cement his place in Fratton Folklore with the maverick magic still evident despite his aging legs.

“He was old when he came to play for us, but he was still brilliant,” former teammate Gary O’Neil said. 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.

Among the highlights of the midfielder’s single season with Harry Redknapp’s side was a thrilling home draw with Barnsley, in which he scored a sensational hat-trick as the sides tied eight goals to 4 -4.

Peter Crouch vividly remembers the impact of the marvelous Prosinecki, a chain-smoking, whiskey-drinking marvel who lit up games in Portsmouth colours.

“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.

“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.

The chasm of class between Prosinecki and his teammates and opponents was evident, even though his career had plummeted from the dizzying heights of European Cup success with Red Star.

His lone season saw him remembered as one of Portsmouth’s all-time greats, a footballer who club fans could hardly believe was waltzing around defenders in their colors.

He earned a recall to the Croatia side for the 2002 World Cup in what was a last chance for international success, before his career faded over the next two seasons.

Prosinecki never quite became the footballer he promised to be, but he was the one who could shake things up while still looking like a comfortable man in slippers and a pipe – exactly as you imagine it would have liked.

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Brian L. Hartfield