By Jamie Currie.
There is no denying Gheorghe Hagi’s standing within the world of football. Hagi is a Romanian football legend. He made 124 appearances for his country from 1983 until 2000, making him the second most-capped player of all-time behind Dorinel Munteanu, who amassed an incredible 134 caps. He does, however, share the accolade of being Romania’s all-time top goalscorer with Adrian Mutu – both managed to bag 35 goals.
Hagi, who is nicknamed, The Maradona of the Carpathians, was quick to champion Ianis’ permanent move from KRC Genk. He seemed to share the delight of the support at the move getting completed. Furthermore, he explained that he told Ianis that the permanent move to Ibrox was the right one for him at this point in his young, promising career.
He said: “Rangers is a very big club, with a big history, with a tradition in Europe, a club with a winning mentality, with fantastic fans that any club would like. We are very happy that he signed and all these things will help Ianis to get even better. I told him that this club is ideal for him.”
Hagi captured the hearts of the Rangers supporters when he almost single-handedly kept Rangers’ Europa League hopes alive when he dragged a team that looked down and out by the scruff of the neck and scored two goals against Braga in the first leg of the last 32 at Ibrox to help Rangers to a memorable 3-2 victory. The post-match interview is where his “Ibrox, baby. It’s just different” phrase came from. But it was very much a family affair as Gheorghe was also in the stadium that evening.
The former playmaker had a tear in his eye as he witnessed his son send Ibrox into a state of delirium and the match was also played on his 55th birthday which gave Gheorghe even more satisfaction at what he had saw unfold.
Speaking about that Braga match, he said: “It was a great joy because it was an important match in Europe, in an incredible stadium. He played very well, scored two beautiful goals and made me feel proud.”
Gheorghe is now the owner of FC Viitorul Constanța – a club he founded in 2009 – but Gica, in addition to being the owner, has been in the role of manager since 2014. Hagi explained that it was Steven Gerrard who initially wanted Ianis to join Rangers and he outlined the three areas of Ianis’ game which he feels will improve while working with the Rangers manager.
Hagi explained: “Ianis was wanted first by the coach. Steven Gerrard was a great player, a leader. He is a winning coach with a winning mentality, and Ianis will definitely learn a lot of things that will help him progress a lot mentally, tactically and physically.”
Hagi is no stranger to Ibrox and its amazing European nights. He played for Steaua in the European Cup quarter-final second leg in a 2-1 win for Rangers on the 16th of March 1988, which saw Steaua progress 3-2 on aggregate, and again in the Champions League group stage match while playing for Galatasaray – that particular match ended in a goalless draw. But the noise the fans made on both occasions is something that remains fresh in Hagi’s memory.
“My first match at Ibrox was with Steaua in the Champions League, and then with Galatasaray” he recalled.
“The first time we lost, then we drew, so the matches with Rangers were always very difficult. You have a wonderful audience, which creates a fantastic atmosphere, and this helps the team a lot.”
There was time for a little reminiscing, as it would be rude not to, given the glittering footballing career Gheorghe Hagi carved out for himself. You do not captain your country or play at three World Cups or indeed play for Barcelona and Real Madrid if you weren’t something special.
The great man was also an integral part of the Romanian side that reached the quarter-final in at USA 1994, which earned them the golden generation tag. Hagi was conscious of how important a role that World Cup played in shaping his career.
Looking back, he expressed how he felt about the most important points and achievements in his career.
He said: “For me, there are two moments in my career, the club teams and the national team. I won European trophies with Steaua and Galatasaray, I am among the few players who also played for Real Madrid and FC Barcelona and I scored goals from the centre of the field for both teams.
“The other moment in my career is represented by the national team, my soul team, for which I played for 18 years and participated in three European Championships and three World Championships, the final tournament in the USA 1994 being the highlight of my time playing in the Romanian national team.
“The club teams and the national team brought me prestige, name, popularity, respect worldwide. I ended my career with two European trophies [UEFA Cup 1999-00 and European Super Cup 2000 with Galatasaray before retiring in 2001], and all these made me, fortunately, have many beautiful moments.”
Finally, when Hagi was asked if Ianis felt the burden of being the son of Gheorghe Hagi, he was quite emphatic in his response.
“Ianis is a very mentally strong player, very talented, and one of his main qualities is that he likes pressure; it motivates him. In addition, Ianis is a player with very good individual technique with both feet, he is creative and has personality in the game.”