Ex-Spurs, QPR and Rangers midfielder Niko Kranjcar: I owe my Portsmouth career to my idol Robert Prosinecki

Niko Kranjcar, pictured with Papa Bouba Diop, celebrates winning the FA Cup with Pompey in May 2008. Picture: Joe PeplerNiko Kranjcar, pictured with Papa Bouba Diop, celebrates winning the FA Cup with Pompey in May 2008. Picture: Joe Pepler
Niko Kranjcar, pictured with Papa Bouba Diop, celebrates winning the FA Cup with Pompey in May 2008. Picture: Joe Pepler

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Niko Kranjcar admits his footballing idol Robert Prosinecki helped convince him to take a leap of faith and join Pompey.

The Hajduk Split midfielder was seeking a move abroad after appearing for Croatia in the 2006 World Cup finals.

He revealed in the 2020 book Played Up Pompey Three that Rennes had an offer accepted, yet Kranjcar was against joining what was then a struggling French top-flight club.

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Then Pompey emerged and, following glowing recommendations from Blues hero Prosinecki and Croatian team-mate Ivica Mornar, he arrived at Fratton Park in August 2006 for £3.5m.

Niko Kranjcar made 100 appearances for Pompey and scored 12 times from August 2006 until September 2009. Picture: Bryn LennonNiko Kranjcar made 100 appearances for Pompey and scored 12 times from August 2006 until September 2009. Picture: Bryn Lennon
Niko Kranjcar made 100 appearances for Pompey and scored 12 times from August 2006 until September 2009. Picture: Bryn Lennon

‘As a 14-year-old, I had the luxury of watching him train every day for Dinamo Zagreb, where my father, Zlatko, was his manager in the Croatian First Division.

‘For me, he was an all-time great who achieved a lot – although, back home, we all believe he could have done even more.

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‘Still, Prosinecki won the 1991 European Cup with Red Star Belgrade, before later playing for Real Madrid, Barcelona and returning to Zagreb for a second spell, when managed by my dad. Look at the names of those clubs, that tells you everything.

Former Pompey favourite Niko Kranjcar later played for Spurs, QPR and Rangers. Picture: Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport/PA PhotosFormer Pompey favourite Niko Kranjcar later played for Spurs, QPR and Rangers. Picture: Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport/PA Photos
Former Pompey favourite Niko Kranjcar later played for Spurs, QPR and Rangers. Picture: Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport/PA Photos

‘I was lucky enough to be close to him, so when I discovered Pompey’s interest in signing me in the summer of 2006, it seemed sensible to ask his thoughts about his former club.

‘He told me he loved his time at Fratton Park and encouraged me to leave Hajduk Split to join them. Mind you, even if Prosinecki advised I shouldn’t consider moving to the Blues, I probably would have ignored him!

‘Still, I trusted his judgement, he was one of Slaven Bilic’s assistants with Croatia and, from talking to him, his affection for the club was obvious.

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‘I think most players love their time at Pompey, it’s the passion shown by the fans, the proper old-school English football ground which was wonderful to play in. Years later, those supporters would save their club and it is because of them it still exists.

‘I also asked the opinion of Ivica Mornar, who had been an international team-mate of mine and was on Pompey’s books. Despite not having a great time in terms of results, culminating in his contract being cancelled by mutual consent two weeks after my arrival, he still enjoyed two-and-a-half years on the south coast, making 12 appearances.

‘At the time, Harry Redknapp was recruiting players with vast experience and phenomenal professional careers behind them, with the likes of Sol Campbell, David James, Andy Cole and Kanu having already joined that summer.

‘I guess they also wanted some young players to enable the football club to continue to grow, so also identified myself and Manuel Fernandes, who came on loan from Benfica. I believed it was definitely a place where I could develop.

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‘Coming from Croatia, you strive to reach any of the top five European leagues – Italy, France, Spain, England and Germany. I was a bit sceptical at first whether the Premier League was a style of football which would suit me, concerned that I couldn’t show the best of my talents.

‘The league was fast and strong, while I was a more silky, technical player, yet I believed I possessed the ability to find space on the pitch to influence games. It was a challenge I wanted to take – and I’m so glad I did.

‘I also had the advantage of speaking English, a language I learnt while at school in Austria for four years, the country where my dad was playing as a striker for Rapid Vienna and then VSE St. Polten. As a result, I could settle straight away into the Pompey dressing room, able to join in with the banter in training and talk to every single person in my team.

‘As for Fratton Park, I love it. The majority of stadiums in Croatia have a track around the pitch, half of them were used for athletics as well as football, which made an atmosphere even harder to create.

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‘As for the passion of the support, well I’ve played at Tottenham Hotspur and Glasgow Rangers – and the Pompey fans are definitely second to none.’

As a fixture in their side, Pompey went on to claim two top-nine Premier League finishes, win the 2008 FA Cup and reach Europe for the first time in the club’s history.

And Kranjcar regards Kanu as the best footballer he played alongside during his career.

He added: ‘I thought Lassana Diarra had everything, a midfielder who could play football, who could hold the ball, who could destroy and create.

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‘However, talent-wise, no-one came close to Prosinecki and Kanu. They were never physically gifted, but made magic. You would buy a ticket to a football match to see Kanu and Prosinecki perform.

‘Diarra was great, don’t get me wrong, sometimes you’d wait a bit too long to receive the ball but, in those six months of that season, he was a different class. However, of all the footballers I played with, Kanu was my favourite – and I also count Luka Modric and Gareth Bale among former team-mates.’

Niko Kranjcar made 100 appearances for Pompey and scored 12 times from August 2006 until September 2009.

Played Up Pompey Three is available from Waterstone’s (Portsmouth & Fareham), Pompey’s club shop and Amazon.

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Alternatively, contact [email protected] for copies autographed by Guy Whittingham, Alan Knight and Barry Harris.