Midfield Magician: Niko Kranjcar
I've spent a lot of time recently looking at the role of a number of Portsmouth's recent signings in our success this season.
Jermain Defoe, Sulley Muntari, Lassana Diara, Sylvain Distin, and Papa Bouba Diop have all played crucial roles in our improvement this season in both the league and the FA Cup.
And of course, no Portsmouth supporter or pundit alike would look to the contributions of Sol Cambell, David James, and Glen Johnson as anything short of spectacular.
But there's one player who I do not believe has received enough credit from the media for the work he has done for Portsmouth—and his national side—this year.
Bought from Hajduk Split for £3.5 million at the beginning of the 2006-2007 season, the attacking midfielder's chances during the first half of Portsmouth's season were quite limited.
Having finally made his debut in October of that season in a defeat against Tottenham Hotspur, the jury on Kranjcar was still well and truly out come the halfway mark of the season. He had failed to really give Portsmouth supporters and impression of him or, perhaps, he had simply failed to bed into the squad.
There was, of course, the issue of where Kranjcar had been utilized for much of that season. Following Argentinean Andres D'Allesandro's exit from the club after our "great escape" of the 2005-2006 season, Kranjcar was primarily being utilized on the left wing—despite being a right-footed player.
There was also, of course, the battle for places for the Croatian. Matthew Taylor had been solidifying himself as a Portsmouth legend in that particular position while also chipping in with his fair share of goals for the team. Where, then, could Harry Redknapp fit the Croat into his plans?
As many followers of the beautiful game will tell you, it can be very difficult to accommodate an out-and-out central attacking midfielder in your formation—especially in England.
Then, there was this season.
With David Nugent's chances being limited since his summer arrival from Preston North End, Kanu getting further on in years, and Benjani who had finally hit a rich vein of form, Portsmouth found themselves performing incredibly well away from home.
And playing a 4-5-1 formation while doing so, with Niko Kranjcar playing in his preferred role directly behind the striker.
An additional injury to Kanu allowed for Benjani to hit form at just the right time, and the service provided by Kranjcar proved formidable. Benjani began racking up the goals, Kranjcar himself began to score the occasional volley, and Portsmouth climbed up the table.
Benjani's exit to Manchester City has done little to dent the form of Kranjcar, however, as Jermain Defoe is proving to be the far better player that we all expected—a true poacher.
And Kranjcar—while being under utilized during his first season and struggling to find solid form—has proven to be integral to a Portsmouth side who are currently in sixth place, vying for a European spot, and in the FA Cup final.
Kranjcar was even able to unseat fan-favorite Matthew Taylor at the start of the season. I was one of many who were crushed to see Taylor move up to the Reebok Stadium during January, but at the same time, I couldn't entirely blame Redknapp for his decision.
Kranjcar has been almost un-droppable.
And his excellent season has not simply been limited to his club performances. For his country, Kranjcar has proven to be a midfield maestro, playing very well while also scoring a fair few goals—including the first in the comeback against England at Wembley, and this month's opener against Scotland.
In Niko Kranjcar, Portsmouth and Croatia can be excited to have an excellent young midfielder who is only going to improve.
And I can guarantee that Kranjcar is going to play an integral part of Harry Redknapp's plans over the next few weeks as we come up to the final push for European places and the FA Cup Final itself.
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