Mornar looks for chance to prove worth

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The Independent Football

The chief motivation for Ivica Mornar going into Euro 2004 should be to prove that he is as colourful a figure on the pitch for Croatia as he is off it. If nothing else, Portsmouth's 30 year-old must come up with the answer to one of the tournament's guidebooks which said unkindly of his contribution to the second half of Portsmouth's season: "Did a passable impression of the invisible man.''

The chief motivation for Ivica Mornar going into Euro 2004 should be to prove that he is as colourful a figure on the pitch for Croatia as he is off it. If nothing else, Portsmouth's 30 year-old must come up with the answer to one of the tournament's guidebooks which said unkindly of his contribution to the second half of Portsmouth's season: "Did a passable impression of the invisible man.''

Considering that Mornar had started the season as fourth-choice striker for Anderlecht and then enjoyed an outstanding spell - appearing in the Champions' League and scoring 10 goals before Belgium's winter break - his arrival at Fratton Park during the transfer window came as something of a surprise. But Mornar is so reluctant to give interviews that the reasons for his move were never clarified. There were, of course, the obvious ones touted around such as the lure of the Premiership, not to mention his cut of a £400,000 transfer.

The Croatian's 10 Premiership appearances included only three starts and a single goal which came in a 4-3 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur. Mornar lost his place for good after having the audacity to criticise his manager, Harry Redknapp, for experimenting with him in midfield when the whole world is supposed to know that he is much happier playing the part of a bustling striker who specialises in cutting in from the right flank and getting his bald head to crosses.

"Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea are the only three English teams who try to play football," Mornar said by way of a retort to Redknapp who was not unduly impressed.

If Redknapp and Portsmouth are looking for excuses to part with a player who still has two years left on his contract, they need look no further than the recent speculation linking him to alleged involvement in fraud and fake Belgian passports. "I'm going to defend my honour,'' said Mornar. "This has come at a very bad moment but I will do anything to know the truth. I do not know what is going on.''

If he has to be called before a Belgian court he could be forced to leave Fratton Park or apply for a new work permit.

Apart from his comments concerning Redknapp and the alleged passport problems, Mornar prefers to keep his own counsel when asked for his views. His usual reply is that he does not speak English unless, it is alleged, attractive members of the opposite sex are doing the asking and then, mysteriously, Mornar - twice married to Miss Croatias - suddenly discovers that he actually does speak the lingo. To his team-mates though, he is regarded as a bit of a loner, all the more so since the departure of the one player who befriended him, the Pole, Sebastian Olszar.

If Mornar seems to have a persecution complex where the press is concerned, then it is hardly surprising considering the attitude of his coach. When asked if the lack of a playmaker was Croatia's biggest problem, Otto Baric replied: "No, my biggest problem is journalists. You just keep blaming me for things. Sometimes I just think aloud and you get wind of it and don't want to let go.''

When it comes to not letting go Mornar is a supreme exponent, considering that he has been on the international scene since Croatia's very first game, a 2-0 win over Spain in Valencia 10 years ago. But he failed to make his country's 1998 World Cup squad and has gained only 17 caps which have yielded one goal. That came in the 3-1 defeat by England at Ipswich nine months ago.

One of football's archetypal itinerants, Mornar can probably blame his much-interrupted international career on his inability to settle in one place for any length of time. He has played in his native country for Hajduk Split and OFK Belgrade in Yugoslavia, in Germany for Eintracht Frankfurt, in Spain for Seville and Orense, and in Belgium for Standard Liege and Anderlecht, where his best moment came with a goal in a 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich in the Champions' League last autumn.

But Anderlecht have got on very well without him and Portsmouth may well find they can do the same unless Mornar convinces Redknapp over the next three weeks that he is an invaluable asset.

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