Yesterday on The Celtic Star we looked at a player who shone playing against Celtic. Youri Djorkaeff left a lasting impression on Celtic fans everywhere when he orchestrated PSG’s 3-0 win at Celtic Park In November 1995. Such an impression in fact that he and his teammates were applauded from the pitch after a 4-0 aggregate European Cup Winners Cup defeat of Tommy Burns Celtic side.
In August 1998 at the European Cup preliminary round stage, Celtic were to once again exit European football at the hands of a footballing maverick.
There are not too many players who play for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, live a playboy lifestyle and smoke 40 red Marlboros a day. The warning signs were there, we probably even knew all about him, problem was we just couldn’t find a way to stop Robert Prosinescki. It is an inevitability that you cannot stop genius in full flow.
Holding on to a 1-0 win from the first leg at Celtic Park, a result in itself somewhat fortuitous, given the impact Prosinecki had in the encounter. His vision and dead ball delivery had caused Celtic all sorts of problems in Glasgow.
Jonathan Gould had a good night keeping him at bay and was ably assisted by the junction of crossbar and post from a free kick in the second half. When Darren Jackson scored on the rebound from a Craig Burley strike to give the Celts a 1-0 win in the first leg it was a fantastic result given the quality of the opposition.
Celtic headed for Zagreb for the second leg expecting a tough tie and weren’t disappointed. Trying to hold the Croats and their midfield genius at bay for the opening twenty minutes and dig in, would have been the initial strategy. To try and engineer an away goal and stop the creative flow of Prosinecki would have been next on the list.
Celtic were able to survive the crucial opening 20 minutes but only just. In 13 minutes fortune favoured the Celts when a shot from Silvio Maric struck the base of the post and 10 minutes later just when we thought we had ridden the initial waves of Zagreb attacks, the goal we wanted to avoid arrived and it came from the same player who had threatened earlier.
Maric collected the ball on the edge of the penalty box, swivelled away from his marker, and then as the rest of the Celtic defence slept he directed a low shot beyond Jonathan Gould and into the net and the lead Celtic had brought with them from the first leg had vanished.
Still, if Celtic could get to half-time with the tie level that same plan to tame Prosinecki and grab the away goal could swing the tie in favour of the Celts.
Then just two minutes before half-time captain Tom Boyd, sent Maric crashing to the ground when he challenged him inside the 18 yard box. It was a penalty and inevitably Robert Prosinecki took it upon himself to take the kick and sent his shot beyond Gould and into the net. It was with such nonchalance he may have been puffing on one of his Marlboros as he dispatched the kick.
Still we could accentuate the positive. If we score first in the second half, if we stem the tide and don’t concede again then progress on the away goals rule is within our grasp.
This however became more and more of a forlorn possibility as Zagreb drove forward at the start of the second half. The game took on the look of a lost cause for Celtic as they were pushed back more and more, while the Croatians looked confident they would add to their lead with Prosinecki all the while strolling around, linking the play, probing and testing the Celtic backline.
That always seemed to be the likeliest scenario as the Celtic simply began to crumble in front of the Zagreb attacks. And, always, that man Prosinecki was the thorn in Celtic’s side, the man who tormented, who ran the show, and the man Celtic were unable to tame. It was always going to be Prosinecki who applied the killer blow and he did just that in the 68th minute. He moved forward, eluding any Celtic attempts to stop him, and then from the edge of the penalty box flighted a ball out of the reach of Gould and into the net and Celtic knew then that the game was up.
It hurt, of course it hurt, but you could still admire genius when it’s at work and admire it we did. Celtic lost the game 3-0 and it could have been more. One man made the difference.
There was a player from that Dinamo Zagreb team that would eventually, after a rather drawn out transfer, make his way to Celtic. It’s a shame we couldn’t have added Prosinecki to our side when we signed Mark Viduka but at the Stones said, you can’t always get what you want.
When you glance around the football landscape now and you see powerful, athletic and physical specimens wherever you look, it makes you wonder if guys like Robert Prosinecki would even get a place in a football academy now.
Surely there is still room for the odd entertainer, even if he can’t pass the bleep tests or his body fat is outside the permitted range, even if they do like a cheeky cigarette and a bit of a knees up. Bring back the mavericks I say. It’s far too sanitised without them.
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