Niko Kranjčar: Classy Croat

Niko Kranjčar: Classy Croat

Player Profile: Niko Kranjčar

Date of Birth: 13/08/1984

Height: 1.86 m

Position: Midfielder

National Team: Croatia

International Caps: 81

International Goals: 15 

Club Career

Where do you start with Niko Kranjčar? When he first burst onto the scene in England, it looked like Portsmouth had stumbled upon a real gem. In an age before the likes of Juan Mata, Luka Modrić and David Silva, he proved showed that a technically proficient midfielder could be the engine room of a Premier League side. Kranjčar made Portsmouth tick, and it looked as if he was going to have quite the future.

But it only takes one look at the second half of his career to see that he never quite reached the lofty heights that many expected. Things went downhill quickly after a failed stint at Spurs. At a time when he should have been playing a pivotal role in title challenges and cup runs, Kranjčar instead had uninspiring stints in Ukraine, the United States and Scotland before being released by Rangers in 2018. He was still only 35. 

It was evident that Kranjčar was something special early on, though. In 2001, he was just 16 when he made his debut for his boyhood club Dinamo Zagreb and then became one of the youngest-ever goalscorers in the Croatian league when he scored on debut. Months later, he was Dinamo’s youngest-ever captain at 17. His early displays prompted comparison with one of the greatest players of all-time, Zinedine Zidane. 

However, he would soon leave Zagreb under a cloud of controversy. In 2005, he fell out with the club management. Kranjčar demanded a transfer, enraging fans and going from hero to villain in a matter of days. His choice of club did not appease them either – it was to Zagreb’s heated rivals Hajduk Split. 

Kranjčar had a great start to life at Hajduk and became a fan favourite there as well. In his very first season, he won the league title and his displays for the club had the rest of the continent sitting up and taking notice. Kranjčar endeared himself further to supporters by rejecting any interest and opting to stay on at Hajduk. 

However, the following season, after some terrific displays at the 2006 World Cup, it was impossible for the Croatian club to keep their star player with multiple offers from France and Spain. However, in the end, it was English club Portsmouth who won the race for Kranjčar’s signature. The Croat sealed a £3.5 million move and was now ready to test himself at a higher level. 

Kranjčar’s Portsmouth career got off to a good start, with the midfielder putting in some terrific displays as Portsmouth finished in the top half of the table. The next year was even more fruitful. Portsmouth, who had finished ninth the previous year, did one better and finished eighth, above the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United. Kranjčar made 34 appearances for them in the league, scoring four times. However, the highlight of the season, for both Kranjčar and Portsmouth was a stunning FA Cup victory. 

Unfortunately, that was the high point of Kranjčar’s stint at Portsmouth as things began going downhill from there. Manager Harry Redknapp, who had signed Kranjčar and helmed the club during the previous two successful seasons, left to manage Tottenham. Incoming manager Tony Adams was a disaster as Portsmouth found themselves mired in a relegation battle. They did survive in the end though, finishing 14th, just seven points away from relegation. But Kranjčar had enough and with his contract entering its final year, he held all the aces. The following summer, he was able to force through a move to Tottenham where he was reunited with Harry Redknapp. 

Things never clicked for Kranjčar at Spurs though as a combination of injuries and bad form meant he always found himself on the fringes of the first team. That his signing was partially motivated by an injury to fellow Croat Luka Modrić did not help either. Kranjčar made 24 league appearances in his first season, scoring six goals. But with Modrić fit and firing the next year, his contribution was vastly reduced, playing only 13 games in the league. The rise in prominence of a young Gareth Bale did not help either. 

After his third season at Spurs saw him play even less games, Kranjčar left England to go try his luck in the Ukrainian Premier League. His stint with Dynamo Kyiv wouldn’t last long though. After just one season at the club, Kranjčar was back in England playing for Queen’s Park Rangers in the Championship, on loan. He played a vital role in QPR getting promoted before rejoining them on loan again during their season in the Premier League. That season though would end with QPR finishing bottom and getting relegated.

Kranjčar’s next port of call was the United States where he represented New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League. Next, he was off to Glasgow where he spent two years playing for Rangers in the Scottish Premiership. His time at the Scottish giants though was blighted by injury. When, at the end of the 2017/18 season, Rangers decided not to renew his contract, he decided to call time on his career.

International Career

Niko Kranjčar made his debut for Croatia in 2004, five days after his twentieth birthday and wasted no time in becoming an influential player for his country. He was instrumental for Croatia during the qualifying stages of the 2006 World Cup. His first goal for his country came during the qualifiers in a match against Bulgaria that Croatia won 3-1. He also scored another during a qualifier against Malta that proved to be the winner. Kranjčar played all of Croatia’s matches during the 2006 World Cup, and his displays in Germany put him on the radar of several big clubs.

The midfielder was back at his best during the Euro 2008 qualifiers, scoring against Andorra and then against England in the infamous match at Wembley that saw Steve McLaren’s men fail to qualify for the competition. Kranjčar was an important player for Croatia at the tournament itself, helping the team reach the quarter-final stage.

Kranjčar would go on to represent Croatia in the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 Euros. But after an injury ruled him out of the 2014 World Cup, he never played for Croatia again. In a 9 year international career, Kranjčar represented his country 81 times, scoring 15 goals.

Where is Niko Kranjčar now?

After retirement, Kranjčar has been largely absent from football. However, every now and then he pops up in the media, to discuss his former clubs or teammates. 

Did you know? Interesting facts about Niko Kranjčar

 – Niko Kranjčar spent his childhood in Austria where his father played and holds an Austrian passport.

– His father Zlatko was also a Croatian international who later went on to coach the national side. Niko was actually given his international debut by his father.