Player Profile: Gheorghe Hagi
Date of Birth: 5/2/1965
Height: 1.74 m (5 ft 9 in)
Position: Attacking Midfielder / Playmaker
National Team: Romania
International Caps: 124
International Goals: 35
Widely considered to be the best Romanian footballer of all time and one of the best footballers of the 90s, Gheorghe Hagi is nothing short of a footballing legend. Blessed with strong technique, vision and excellent passing ability, he was well known for his creative wizardry and volatile temperament. He was also a superb finisher, which is evident in his goal-to-game ratio, which at certain points in his career was nothing short of sensational.
Hagi’s career began at Farul Constanța, in his home county. However, after impressing in his first season, he quickly moved to Bucharest based Sportul Studențesc. Over the next few seasons at Sportul, Hagi really began to find his feet and in his last full season with the club, scored a remarkable 31 goals in 31 league games. It was this form that led to his move to Romanian powerhouse and recently crowned European Cup champions Steaua București.
His transfer across Bucharest was not all black and white though, in fact, it was shrouded in controversy. The transfer agreement between the two sides was initially meant to be for a single game loan at the request of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s son Valentin, who supported Steaua. However, things never quite worked out that way, with the club refusing to allow him to return to Sportal. Considering the political climate in the country at the time, Sportal did not kick up a fuss and never received a transfer fee for one of the country’s most exciting young talents.
Back on the pitch, Hagi announced himself to the Steaua București fans, in the grandest of fashions, scoring the only goal of the game in 1986 European Super Cup final against Dynamo Kyiv. His great form continued for the club over the following seasons, with the playmaker contributing 76 goals in 97 league games as the team went on a 104 match unbeaten run in the league.
Hagi was a key figure for the side both domestically and in Europe. At home he won 3 Romanian Divizia A titles (now Liga I), as well as two domestic cup trophies. In Europe, he helped the side to the semi-final stage of the 1987-88 European Cup and the 1989 European Cup final a year later, where they were humbled 4-0 by a magnificent AC Milan side.
By this point his exploits in Europe had caught the attention of some of the world’s biggest clubs. However, it wasn’t until the fall of the country’s communist regime in 1989 that he and his talented countrymen could freely move abroad.
After an impressive World Cup at Italia 90 where Romania lost in the Round of 16, Hagi made his first move abroad to no other than Spanish giants Real Madrid. He had a poor first year with Los Blancos and despite an improved second season where he scored 12 goals, people began to question if the “Maradona of the Carpathians” could cut it outside his homeland.
His next move was to Italy’s Serie A, where he signed for the far less glamorous Brescia. The move came as a surprise to many, however, at the time Brescia were coached by Romanian Mircea Lucescu who was building a reputation for himself in Italy. While at Brescia Gheorghe aimed to rediscover the form that has seen him become one of the most sought-after talents on the planet, but things didn’t quite work out that way.
In his first season with the club, Hagi showed glimpses of what he was capable of, but on a far to inconsistent basis. It was not just him though, the whole team performed well below expectations and Brescia were ultimately relegated to Serie B at the conclusion of the 1992–93 season.
Rather than move on, Hagi vowed to stay on and help the club return to Serie A. In Italy, Hagi’s discipline and work ethic were often called into question, with Lucescu once commenting that Hagi was “a great player without a work ethic.” However, things began to improve on the field and he started to perform more consistently, scoring 9 goals as the club finished third and earned promotion back to Serie A.
If anyone had forgotten about the “Regele” (“the King” in Romanian) while he was hidden away in the Italian second division, he reminded the world of his talents with a series of impressive displays at the 1994 World Cup in the USA. His memorable performances at FIFA’s showpiece event saw him earn a return to Spain, this time with the current La Liga champions Barcelona.
At Barcelona, he found himself in a star-studded line-up with the likes of fellow World Cup All Star team players Romario and Hristo Stoichkov. But unlike these players his spell with the Catalan giants is not so fondly remembered by fans.
His time at the Camp Nou was disrupted by injury, however, even when he was fit and healthy, he rarely delivered on the pitch. Hagi’s effort and work ethic were again called into question while at Barca, this time by legendary player and coach Johan Cruyff. His Barca teammate Pep Guardiola once stated that despite Hagi’s obvious talents “he wasn’t able to both attack and defend, so Cruyff couldn’t find room for him.”
This lack of playing time meant that his time at Barcelona had come to an end without him ever really producing his best football. Hagi soon departed Spain for a fresh start in Istanbul, signing for Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray S.K.
Now 31, Galatasaray provided Hagi with an opportunity to prove he could reproduce the brilliance he’d shown on the world stage, and the diminutive Romanian duly delivered.
During his time with Gala, he was a standout performer as the club dominated the domestic landscape winning the Turkish Süper Lig on four consecutive occasions. His excellent form and goalscoring heroics over his four seasons with the club endeared him to Gala’s loyal supporters who labelled him “Comandante”.
The high point of Gheorghe Hagi’s stay in Istanbul came on 17th May 2000 when he etched his name into the history books with victory over Arsenal in the final of the UEFA Cup. The game was not without drama though, and Hagi was at the centre of it. The Galatasaray captain was sent off for striking Arsenal defender Tony Adams in extra time. Luckily for Hagi, his teammates held their nerve and were victorious in the ensuing penalty shoot-out.
This was the first time the club, and a team from Turkey had won a UEFA club competition. But it was only a matter of months before Hagi and his teammates did it again, adding the 2000 UEFA Super Cup to their collection with a penalty shootout victory over Real Madrid.
Gheorghe Hagi’s glittering playing career came to an end in 2001. There’s no doubting he could be inconsistent at times, particularly during his stints in Spain. But he shone when he was the focal point of his sides attacking play, able to express his genius without worrying about his defensive duties. On his day, Hagi was as good a playmaker as anyone in the game in the 90s and will be fondly remembered by fans in Turkey, Romania and across the world for years to come.
Hagi scored some absolute gems in his career, so it’s hard to highlight one in particular. We’ll let the video do the talking, so check out Gheorghe Hagi’s Best Goals below:
Many football fans will be most familiar with Gheorghe Hagi’s performances on the international stage. But this is no surprise as many of his most memorable performances came in the yellow shirt of the Romanian national team.
After making his debut for Romania as a wide eyed 18-year-old, Hagi went on to win 126 caps and score 36 goals for his country, a feat only equalled by Adrian Mutu. He also played in 3 World Cup finals; Italia ‘90, USA ‘94 and France ‘98.
In 1990, Hagi helped the “Tricolorii” (tricolours in English) to the Round of 16 where they lost to Ireland. Despite outplaying the Irish for most of the match, the Romanian’s were unable to find the back of the net. The match went to penalties, and although he converted his spot kick, his side were beaten on the day.
Four years later in the United States, Hagi and his countrymen went one better, bowing out in the quarter final stage. The game against Sweden ended 2-2 after extra-time, and once again the opposition required penalties to defeat what was a very well-drilled Romanian side.
Although the team was eliminated, Hagi performed well throughout the tournament, scoring 3 goals including a spectacular 40-yard lob against Colombia. He was also on the scoresheet in what many consider to be one of the best World Cup matches of all time, Romania’s impressive 3-2 victory over Argentina in the Round of 16. An inspired performance from the “Maradona of the Carpathians” helped the Romanian underdogs show up the Maradona-less Argentines. His fine form ultimately led to his selection in the 1994 World Cup All-Star team alongside the likes of Tomas Brolin and Roberto Baggio.
His third and final appearance at a World Cup was in France ’98, where Romania topped a difficult group that included England and Colombia. However, they were knocked out in the Round of 16 by tournament surprise packets Croatia.
Hagi’s final international tournament with the national team was Euro 2000 where his side lost to Italy in the quarter finals. Much like a month earlier in the UEFA Cup final, Hagi was sent off again in what was to be his final match for his country.
It’s hard to overstate just how big of a deal Hagi is in his native Romania. His impact on the pitch transcended football, lifting the spirits of a nation during some dark times in their history. His contribution to football in his home country was recognised by UEFA in 2003, when he was awarded the Greatest Romanian Footballer of the last 50 Years, and few would argue with that.
Where is Gheorghe Hagi now?
Gheorghe Hagi did not spend long away from the game and began his managerial career as Romanian national team boss in 2001. But after failing to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, he was quickly shown the door.
It wasn’t long before he was back in Turkey, this time for a short and unsuccessful spell in charge of Bursaspor. Remaining in Turkey, his next move was to the more familiar surrounds of Istanbul and his beloved Galatasaray.
At Gala he lifted his first piece of silverware as a manager in emphatic fashion, defeating archrivals Fenerbahçe 5-1 in the 2005 Turkish Cup final. However, this was to be Hagi’s only success at the club, and he was let go after conceding the league to the same side.
He then moved back to Romania where he coached Politehnica Timișoara and former club Steaua București. Although his time at both clubs was short lived due to a mix of poor results and disagreements with club management.
Such is Hagi’s reputation at Galatasaray, that he was once again offered the reins of the club after the sacking of Frank Rijkaard. But as was becoming a recurring theme in his coaching career, he was sacked again after a series of poor results.
After several unsuccessful forays into management, Hagi turned his attention to setting up his very own club. He founded Viitorul Constanț in 2009 and the club started their meteoric rise from Liga III to Liga I over the following seasons.
By 2014 Hagi was ready to re-enter the coaching game and took on the head coach role at Viitorul where he is still in charge today. The clubs epic climb up the Romanian football pyramid was complete at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, when under Hagi’s guidance the club were crowned Romanian Liga I champions for the first time in their history.
At Viitorul he also funded the €11 million Gheorghe Hagi Football Academy in 2009. Based in Ovidiu, Constanța County, the venue has some of the best facilities in Southeast Europe.
Did you know? Interesting Facts about Gheorghe Hagi
– His son Ianis Hagi is a talented attacking midfielder who plays for K.R.C. Genk in Belgium
– Hagi coached his son Ianis for a period at FC Viitorul Constanța.
– He is the brother-in-law of fellow former Romanian international, Gheorghe Popescu, who is currently chairman of Viitorul Constanța.
– Gheorghe Hagi also own’s Hotel Iaki Mamaia which was awarded a Traveller’s Choice award in 2019 by leading travel website TripAdvisor. With guests regularly sighting the footballing legend, we’ll definitely be popping in to say hello if we’re ever in the area.
– Hagi is of Macedonian descent.