The Ignoble Knight: Dado Pršo

dado prso


Rangers & Celtic’s never-ending bitter rivalry that goes beyond sport, deeply simmered into the religious and political broth of Scotland has seen many Croatians in both teams’ shirts. In this particular piece, we’ll tell the tale of a man that first had to make his way through the ranks of life in order to even play football. On one hand, we’re talking exile, heart problems, minimum-wage apprenticeship, alcohol & dullness of everyday life. On the other hand, we’re talking national hero, 3x in a row Player of the Year award, a record-scoring Champions League performance, 50,000 souls worth of farewell, and a distinguished ponytail.

We’re talking about Dado Pršo.


The leaves were falling from the trees in that wet November of 1974 when Miladin “Dado” Pršo was born in Croatia. All the midwives gathered around this colossal baby in the coastal town of Zadar’s hospital. “This boy is special. He’s destined to be great.” – his mother whispered as he waved his tiny, 1.5-stone feet around her head. The news spread quickly around town. The relatives and neighbours of the Pršo family gathered to witness this unusual child. As the tradition dictates, baby Dado was given three gifts, each sealed in a different barrel: a warrior’s chain mail, a sorcerer’s staff and a diplomat’s olive branch.

For whichever barrel baby reaches first, it shall shape its destiny. However, if it fails to pick one, the glory shall avoid him for a lifetime, it was said. The ceremony itself took place in the House of Pršo. The fireplace was the only source of light, and baby chuckles were the only one of sound. Barrels were laid on a burgundy-like carpet in front of the baby. The tension grew among the numerous observers as little Dado took his first step toward the barrels. His mother fainted. She couldn’t bear watching her only son’s future shaping in front of her eyes.

Baby Dado took a long gaze at every barrel, before deciding to kick the first one with his right foot, which eventually pierced through the remaining two. All of a sudden, lightning ripped through the sky and the thunders echoed around the Pršo estate. The screams of terror vibrated through the Main Hall of the house, as people ran for their lives, terrified.

The only ones left were baby Dado, his fainted mother and his father. As the boy curiously looked around the now-empty room, his father said: “F**k it, you’re playing target man.”

The curse

The days of childhood were now long gone as young Dado, following his father’s guidance, took up the ball. He made his first steps in the now-dissolved local NK Zadar. That was the team that later produced the world’s finest playmaker Luka Modrić, and the country’s praised goalkeeper Danijel Subašić. Anyway, Pršo’s vicious stature didn’t go unnoticed, as the then-Yugoslav league’s top dogs Hajduk Split snatched him at the tender age of 12. His future seemed bright at the moment. The years passed, and Pršo kept moving up the youth structure. The boy blossomed like a flower, slowly beginning to take the outlines of a strong, technically gifted centre-forward.

Life in the Pršo family was joyful and, somehow, all the tomorrows seemed bright. But life comes at you fast. They seemed to forget about the curse. Just a year prior to joining the first team, a regular medical test brought unwanted attention to Pršo. He was diagnosed with a heart murmur, a not-so-unusual but dangerous condition. It could prove lethal if combined with a constant high-physical lifestyle of a football player. His future contract was immediately taken out of the question by Hajduk, as was his career.

Pršo was gutted. The shining star that he followed, cloaked in the idea of becoming a professional footballer, had disappeared into the vast horizon. He disappointedly made move to the now-lower division team NK Pazinka, where he tried to fight his way through the life-threatening odds. In his only season in Croatian’s 1. Division, he scored 7 times in 25 appearances. As if it wasn’t enough, the war in Yugoslavia began. The city of Zadar was surrounded, and like many of its fellow citizens, the Pršo family had to flee their country. The old curse had finally caught up on him. Then just a baby, now a boy on the verge of becoming a man. But he became an exile.


Parlez Vous Francais?

Drizzly days and windy nights might be the accurate description of the northern coast of France. A deeper inland hides a gem, once one of the most prosperous medieval town of Rouen. It was one of the breaking points in the days that occurred after the famous D-Day operation that brought an end to the suffering of WW2. 50 years later, history repeated itself. The shores of Normandy are the very place where the family Pršo had found salvation amidst fleeing the turmoil of war.

While the rest of the family settled slowly, young Dado had no time to waste. He immediately approached local FC Rouen in the summer with a plan of reviving his career. So, Pršo found himself on yet another new beginning. From a promising complete forward to complete anonymity. Things didn’t go according to the plan of his. In his first and last 10 matches for Les Diables Rouges, Pršo scored once and eventually got fed up with everything. He retired from professional football aged just 20. He lost the momentum, and what’s even more devastating, he lost hope. After all of the things that he experienced in the past year, it would be harsh to say it was unexpected.


Life in France is not for free, especially if you’re a war refugee. Dado Pršo strolled around the town, feeling like a blank page. A content-filled page that he was, a mere script, but still an auspicious scenario, got ripped out and crumpled, binned under a perfect angle from a 10-yard distance by life itself. Everything he dreamed, everything he had worked on since he could even remember, was now down the drain. For most of the young people that find themselves in that unfortunate situation, there are only two ways to go: to excel above it or to succumb to it. Pršo took the latter.

He got a job as an apprentice car mechanic. His life was not very different from your average 20 year old. You know that feeling? Doing the job you don’t like for a minimum wage, followed by endless boozing around town, fuelled with adrenaline rushes of slot machines and to-be-or-not-to-be roulette tables, in order to feel things. That’s dullness, at its best.

A few years passed, and Pršo had no connection with sports, other than an informal Ligue 1 chat with customers and an occasional pool-table encounter with his fellow-confused companions. Seemingly, that’s what life had in store for Dado. But there is another salvation that sharpened his already worn-out blade. In one of those late bar evenings, when you come to shrug your shoulders at problems with a bitter taste of distillate on your lips, a heavenly vision appeared to Dado, in a shape of a woman. A beautiful local girl named Carol, as fine as the old Armagnac, intoxicated his brave heart and woke him up from the nightmare. The couple started to live together. With her help, Pršo reclaimed confidence and passion for greater things. Is there anything greater than football? Thank you, Carol.

Just around the corner

1996 was decisive for Pršo. He continued working as a car mechanic, but this time enriched his afternoons with the 4th Division side Saint-Raphaëlois FC. He was handed the target man role and managed to score 7 goals in 18 appearances for the Saints. Life seemed to set a stable course for Dado, as he finally reunited with his old love, the ball, plus enjoying life as a family man. Until one sunny afternoon…

AS Monaco came to have a reserve-team walkabout in a friendly with the Saints, but Pršo made them run. With the Man of the Match signature on his cheek, he inspired AS Monaco’s manager, the famous Jean Tigana, to invite him on trial. Tigana was a world-class midfielder, a member of the “le Carré Magique” or the “Magic square, France’s fearsome midfield quartet. It consisted of Tigana, Platini, Luis Fernandez and Alain Giresse and ruled in the ’80s. So, Tigana obviously knew how to read the game. It was that ability that gave chance to young Croatian. Pršo was out of this world, but kept his composure and satisfied the jury.

Ajaccio get enough

Alright, he had made it. If this story ended right there, Pršo could still be considered a hero. And if he was American, they would probably make a blockbuster out of it. It would be worth it. But there’s much, much more. After moving to French Ligue 1 champions, he had neither experience nor the ability to fight his way through the outstanding competition for the starting striker. With two domestic wonder kids in David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry, swapping minutes with Brazilian fox Sonny Anderson, there was little to no time for the young Croatian to experiment with. Other audacious names were there, not just in the final third. Fabien Barthez, Gilles Grimandi, Sylvain Legwinski, Emmanuel Petit, Enzo Scifo… it was no surprise when that side lifted Ligue 1 trophy the previous season. Meanwhile, Dado studied the French manners on loan in the Ligue 2 side AC Ajaccio.

1998 came and with it Croatia’s bronze in the World Cup in France. The craze around Croatian footballers commenced, but it was his fellow compatriot Robert Špehar that found himself in the first team. Dado had his loan prolonged for another year. In his 2 seasons with Ajaccio, he scored 21 times in 53 appearances. He understood the assignment. After a somehow disappointing 4th place finish in 1998/99, alongside several departures, manager Claude Puel decided it was time to shake things up. The forward force now had an established David Trezeguet, man-engine Ludovic Giuly, lazy striker Marco Simone and guess who?

First one in

Number 20. That was how they probably referred to the big guy at the moment. Pršo played the occasional role in the conquering campaign, but he was certainly a part of it. He appeared 27 times across the whole season, sliding the ball 7 times past the keeper. It is understandable when you consider the fact that the clinical partnership of Trezeguet and Simone combined an astonishing 54 goals along the way. You don’t fix something if it’s not broken. However, AS Monaco swept the floor with the rest of France. It was Pršo’s first major trophy in his career. He soon added a second, with Monaco beating FC Nantes in the Supercup.

The next season saw the team getting kicked out of the Champions League in the group stage, while falling to a terrible 11th place in Ligue 1. Things had gotten out of hand, and it was a season to forget, as was the following one. Experienced maestro Didier Deschamps took the wheels and the team went through a rebranding. Among other things, Pršo was given the number 9.

2002/03 brought so much desired improvement and AS Monaco finished second, just a point behind Olympique Lyonnais. Nonda’s impeccable 26 goals and Rothen’s 18 assists showed that there was something serious going on in Monte Carlo. The team was the highest scoring in the league, with some tremendous football being played. Pršo was injured for some of the campaign, but still contributed with 12 goals in 20 league appearances. Consolation came in the League Cup Final, where they demolished FC Sochaux 4-1. Pršo scored again, his third in the Cup. They qualified for the Champions League. This time, they would not let it overwhelm them.

A gift to oneself

Monaco reached the final of the CL, in which they eventually lost to Jose Mourinho’s Porto. But as life tells tales, there was a day a few months prior that will remain written in football’s history. On the night of November 5th, Monaco hosted Deportivo La Coruna in the group stage match. It ended 8-3 for the hosts. Pršo scored 4, equalling Simone Inzaghi and Marco Van Basten’s record-scoring performance in the competition. Is there a better way to celebrate your birthday?

In addition, Pršo got a call that he had hoped for. He would finally get to wear Croatia’s checkered shirt, for the first time in his career. He led Croatia’s deluded team to the Euro 2004 by himself, becoming the national hero in the process. His charisma and persistence were simply a gift from above for the somehow clueless Croatia’s side. He removed the pressure off the back of young playmaker Niko Kranjčar, on which Croatia’s game had relied upon. Regarding the CL, he scored 7 goals in total, leading the club all the way to the final. They knocked out Real Madrid and Chelsea during their route through the competition. It was unarguably his best season overall. The Croat’s feat shall remain remembered, and can serve as a guide to all hopeless souls out there. It’s not over until it’s over.

After the campaign, Pršo announced he will be leaving France, and after rejecting AC Milan’s offer, was unveiled as a new Ranger.

Follow your heart

After his spectacular season, he moved from the sunny riviera to the greyness of Glasgow. Pršo was under no illusions. He knew what he was brought for. It was Alex’s McLeish best signing in his Rangers campaign. His strength on the ball and sharpness proved to be very effective, and the team soon profited. In his first season up north, Pršo scored 21 goals across 46 appearances for the Gers, with 18 of them worthy of the title. His cartoon-like partnership with the tiny Nacho Novo was somehow funny to watch, but my God was it efficient.. 36 goals was the result of the deadly duo in their debut season, which brought delight in the blue part of Glasgow. Rangers had won a double, lifting the Cup as well.

Pršo was indeed a warrior, and although he turned 30 a few months after arriving in Glasgow, he behaved like a teenager let loose for the first time. His knee, though, didn’t feel the same. During his three seasons in Scotland, he scored 31 goals in his 94 appearances, winning a double in his debut season. More importantly, he won the hearts of the Rangers’ supporters.

His knee knocked on the door, and unfortunately, the ignoble knight had to hang his boots. He received a glorious farewell of packed Ibrox, a well deserved one. A man walking on crutches, broken, but never defeated. It is Dado Pršo that may serve as an example to all of us. A boy that has beaten the odds, all of them. And the lesson is; when life gives you lemons, just head them in the back of the net.