“It was like playing football with your dad, he couldn’t run, but he was breathtaking on the ball.”
Many people may have forgotten about Roberto Prosinecki’s brief stint on the south coast, but Portsmouth fans and players certainly won’t anytime soon.
The former Croatia midfielder who played for Red Star Belgrade, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla moved to Fratton Park in 2001, and quickly became a local cult hero.
He spent just one season in a Pompey shirt and yet is still remembered as one of the club’s all-time greatest players and biggest legends, having almost single handedly saved them from relegation from the First Division (now the Championship).
But, not all were convinced by the signing, as former Portsmouth midfielder Gary O’Neil told talkSPORT in 2019.
O’Neil was just 19 when Prosinecki arrived and he had big doubts about the chain-smoking 35-year-old’s ability.
However, he told Sports Bar host Andy Goldstein those doubts were vaporised as soon as saw the Croatian’s timeless brilliance in training.
“He was ancient when he came to play for us, but he was still brilliant,” O’Neil told talkSPORT.
“When he came to the club I thought: ‘He’s rubbish! He cant run, how’s he going to play for us?’ But he’d get the ball and you were just like: ‘Oh my God, this guy is a genius!’
“You couldn’t get the ball off him, he’d do step overs that would fool an entire team.
“He literally couldn’t run, it was like playing football with your Dad!
“But he was an unbelievable player. He trained at a tempo he wanted to train at, he’d just play in the number ten and I would do all his running, but he was breath-taking. The stuff he did was incredible.
“I remember he scored a hat-trick against Barnsley and we still managed to lose 4-3 at home [it was actually a 4-4 draw].
“In the dressing room after the game he just threw his boots down and looked at us with disgust, like: ‘You lot are rubbish. I just scored a hat-trick at home and we still can’t even beat Barnsley’.
“And then he went to the kit room with the kit man to have a fag.”
The smoking was another element that added to the mystical air surrounding the Croatian maestro.
He was 35, he couldn’t run, he smoked like a chimney, and yet he almost single handedly saved Pompey from relegation.
What a man. (Smoking is bad, kids)
“When you walked in the dressing room at half-time there was always someone in the toilet cubicle and you could just smoke coming over the top of the door,” O’Neil added.
“He would smoke through a good couple of cigarettes every single half-time.
“Smoking is bad and it’s definitely not good if you want to be a footballer, but Prosinecki was unbelievable.”