What Gary O'Neil initially thought about Robert Prosinecki before realising Portsmouth had signed a 'genius'

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Gary O’Neil admitted he initially thought Robert Prosinecki was ‘rubbish’ when the then 32-year-old popped up at Pompey for the 2001-02 season.

However, the ex-Blues midfielder said he very quickly changed his opinion upon seeing the former European Cup winner with Red Star Belgrade on the training pitch.

The Croatian midfielder arrived at Fratton Park in the summer of 2001, after being lured to the south coast by Milan Mandaric.

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Joining for the season, the move surprised many given Pompey’s then old Division One status and Prosinecki remaining one of the biggest names in world football following spells at both Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Speaking on talkSPORT, O’Neil - who was 18 at the time - said it was ‘mad’ that the Blues had signed one of the game’s true superstars.

Prosinecki’s lack of running, though, made him question the move.

That was until, upon closer inspection, O’Neil saw what Mandaric famously called his ‘present to the Pompey fans’ could do with the ball.

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The former Pompey youngster said: 'It was mad (when we found out he was coming).

Former Pompey midfielder Robert ProsineckiFormer Pompey midfielder Robert Prosinecki
Former Pompey midfielder Robert Prosinecki | JPIMedia

'I thought: “I was a central midfielder, he was too so it was a bit of competition”.

‘But I thought: “he's rubbish, he can't run, how’s he going to play for us?”

'And then he got the ball and you were like: “oh, my God, this guy’s a genius”.

‘You just couldn't get the ball off him.

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‘He would do stuff like drag it under his foot and the whole team would jump as if he was going to shoot.

‘He'd fool everybody and then drag it – he was unbelievable.

‘He probably was (the best player I played with), even though he was probably nowhere near as good when he played for us as he was in his prime.

‘I was young then, I was in the team and he would play as the No10 and I would just do loads of his running.

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‘It was brilliant. At such a young age, I learnt so much from him apart from smoking at half-time.

‘I left that behind but the rest of it was brilliant.

‘He was a lovely guy, he spoke English but he wasn't very kind to us because he thought we were rubbish!’

Prosinecki played 35 times for the Blues that season and scored nine goals as the team finished 17th.

Three of those goals came against Barnsley at Fratton Park on February 2, 2002.

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Yet they weren’t enough to earn Pompey victory, with the Tykes snatching a 4-4 draw.

And O’Neil admitted the Blues players could feel the wrath of the former World Cup star.

He told talkSport: ‘He couldn't run, he literally couldn't run, it was like playing football with your dad, but he was unbelievable – you couldn't get the ball off him.

‘He trained at a tempo he wanted to train, but he was breathtaking, the stuff he did was incredible.

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‘I remember the hat-trick he scored, I remember him coming in after the game. he'd scored this hat-trick, I think it was against Barnsley, and he threw his boots down and just looked at us with disgust as if: “you lot were rubbish, I've scored a hat-trick at home and still you can't even beat Barnsley”.

'And then he was in the kit room with the kit man having a fag!’

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