Ianis Hagi revels in the pressure of being the son of great Gheorghe
‘I was born with pressure. Whatever I did, I was always compared with my father’: Rangers star Ianis Hagi revels in the pressure of being the son of the great Romanian star Gheorghe
- The 21-year-old has made a big impression during loan spell at Rangers
- Hagi has been to play for a coach who encourages him to take chances
- Steven Gerrard wants to make the deal permanent after the lockdown
- The son of the great Hagi will have plenty of other offers on the table
Ambition is the engine that drives success. The fuel that makes Ianis Hagi repeatedly drag himself up and down the 800-yard stretch of road outside his home back in Romania. The reason he treats his famous family name not as a burden, but an incentive.
At just 21, Hagi – son of the great Gheorghe and already the holder of ten full senior caps for his country – has learned plenty about life, football and his place in the game.
Mainly, he’s come to understand how tough it can be to compete not with an opponent or a team-mate, but with a legend for a dad.
On-loan Ianis Hagi has enjoyed playing for a coach who encourages him to take chances
‘I can say that, since day one, I was born with pressure,’ he told Sportsmail, a well-practised shrug of his shoulders clear enough over the Zoom video call. ‘Wherever I went, whatever I did in my life, I was always compared with my father.
‘And the pressure was there. Whether I wanted it or didn’t want it, I had to get used to it.
‘But to my advantage is that I really learned how to deal with this pressure.
‘Not only that, I also learned how to create an advantage by having this pressure.
The 21-year-old midfielder has learned plenty about life, football and his place in the game
‘I can only be proud to wear this family name. The pressure that comes with it gives me the adrenaline and the ambition I need to move forward every single day.
‘One of the things that my father always told me is that ambition makes the difference.
‘It doesn’t matter how much talent you have, it doesn’t matter how good a work ethic you have. You’ve got to have that ambition to always be the best – and always outwork the guy next to you. Even though he’s your friend. Even though he’s your brother. When you are in a competition, you have to outwork him.
‘I think I got this ambition from my father – and it will always stay in my mind.
‘I’m always working, always thinking of being the best. That’s been my goal since day one.
‘My ambition is always to train more than the others, train more than anyone.
‘Even though I have talent, everybody tells me I’m a talented player, you don’t need talent to put the work in.’ At the moment, like so many footballers across the globe, the pandemic lockdown is restricting Hagi’s work to the most basic levels.
‘Things in Romania are quite complicated,’ he said. ‘You can’t even leave your house without a piece of paper to say you are going for groceries, for example.
The son of the great Gheorghe Hagi (above) treats his famous family name as an incentive
‘There are police everywhere on the streets, stopping you to check where you are going.
‘But I’m fortunate in that I have a cousin three or four houses away. So we can do things together.
‘Our families are really close, so we’re not just alone. We can communicate.
‘And it’s nice to be in the same city as my family. The last time we were in the one place for this long was maybe eight or nine years ago.
‘I have a bike but I also have a street just beside my house which is about 800 metres long, so I can do some running.
‘I also have some dumbbells and other weights, so that’s my gym, if you like.’ Keeping in touch via phone calls and video conferencing has been a godsend for hundreds of millions during this crisis.
And, yes, in the case of young Hagi, one of the regular callers is Steven Gerrard – a coach very keen to parlay the attacking midfielder’s loan from Genk into something more permanent.
If and when FIFA and UEFA sort out what’s happening with contracts and transfers, he’ll be a priority signing. Albeit one with options elsewhere.
Gheorghe Hagi (centre) watches his son during a Europa League match against Braga
‘I can’t tell you everything,’ he said of his chats with the Rangers boss. ‘But we’re in contact. Everybody in the club has been in touch. They’re sharing with us all the information we need to stay fit, to train and be 100 per cent ready when we come back. I don’t know if a player could ask for more.’
Positive about his time at Ibrox so far, eager to stress how happy he has been to play for a coach who encourages him to take chances, Hagi is understandably reluctant to make any cast-iron guarantees about what happens next.
‘I have my agents, AC Talent, who work very hard for me, I have faith and trust in them,’ he said. ‘So my future is in good hands because of my agents..’ The only certainty is that, should he return to Ibrox either in the short or longer term, Rangers fans will be thrilled to have a player with his knack for the delivering on the big occasion.
Three goals represents a decent enough return for a player who can be deployed out wide or in the No 10 role.
But stats alone don’t convey the impact of his late winner against Hibs at Ibrox. Or the double – including the clincher inside the closing ten minutes – in the 3-2 Europa League win over Braga.
His on-camera reaction after that game gave birth to a new catchphrase for Rangers fans: ‘Ibrox, baby. It’s different.’ Explaining just what it felt like to be in the midst of all that mayhem, Hagi told Sportsmail: ‘My father had told me about Rangers.
‘I’d heard a lot of stories from him because he’d played against Rangers, so he knew more than most about what Ibrox was like.
‘He told me when I went there, before I signed, what to expect.
‘But until you feel it on your skin, you can’t really talk about it. Especially when we had that comeback against Braga, it was out of this world. I had never felt the way I did that night. It was amazing. Unique.’ The fact that Hagi took to Scottish football so quickly will have surprised some; one or two extremely talented players have struggled to cope in an environment where prisoners are rarely taken.
Growing up in a relatively privileged setting, son of a national treasure and hero of the people, might have made some kids soft.
But Hagi, whose fame back home is reflected in the fact that he’s got his face on Pepsi cans, has never let that happen.
Spend half an hour in conversation with him and you can’t fail to be struck by his maturity and focus. He is, in more ways than one, a credit to his family.
Explaining when he first became aware that his dad wasn’t just another footballer, he said: ‘I can’t say there was an exact date but, when I was about six or seven and he was taking me to the team he’d started coaching, I realised that he was different.
‘I realised that he’d done something for the sport. As I grew up, I saw more videos. I understood that he was one of the greats.
‘Was I always good at football? Uh, I think so, being modest! But I can guarantee you that, wherever I went, I had to prove it.
‘I can even remember my first day in school. When I stepped inside the school, I was like: “Oh man, I have to win everything possible here”. I was born with this mentality. Every playground, every game I played, I just had to win.
‘So I just grew with it. It’s still in me now. I try to use it every day.
‘I have to thank my sister, she’s two years older than me, for providing the biggest challenge.
‘She persuaded the boys in her class to let me play with them. After the first time, I was always allowed to play with them.
‘Whatever happens next, I just want to be healthy. Whenever anyone asks me about my future, this is my only wish.
‘Knowing the ambitions that I have and the goals I set for myself, I know I can achieve them – if I’m healthy.
‘So the only wish I have is that God keeps me healthy. Wherever I play, whatever team or whatever competition, then it’s my goal to be the best.’ As ambitions go, it’s not too shabby. But, then, aiming high is just the Hagi family business.
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