Ianis Hagi asked to be Rangers role-model for one team-mate as student tendencies spelled out

When asked to assess the playing style of Alexei Mikhailichenko during the gifted midfielder’s five-year spell as a Rangers player in the 1990s, Walter Smith famously made reference to the Ukrainian’s ‘great economy of movement’.

Rangers attacking midfielder Ianis Hagi returned from his period of Covid self-isolation to play a key role in the Premier Sports Cup quarter-fina win over Livingston at Ibrox on Wednesday night. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

While there was a mischievous hint of barbed compliment in the legendary Rangers manager’s wry observation, his admiration for Mikhailichenko’s technical attributes was never in question.

The Ibrox club’s latest eastern European import, Ianis Hagi, can occasionally attract similar perceptions of possessing a languid manner ill-suited to the frenetic demands of Scottish football.

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But the Romanian international playmaker continually proves why he is so highly valued by Rangers manager Steven Gerrard, doing so again on Wednesday night when his entrance as a half-time sub immediately set his team’s performance alight in the Premier Sports Cup win over Livingston at Ibrox.

Rangers midfielder John Lundstram earned praise for his performance against Livingston from assistant manager Gary McAllister. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Gerrard’s assistant Gary McAllister believes the way Hagi plays, both as a keen student of the game and as a chip off the old block of his iconic father Gheorghe, is proof that less can still be more in modern football.

“There is a cleverness about Ianis,” said McAllister. “It is positional, his awareness of how to play the role.

“Sometimes you see players who are busy, running from box to box. But sometimes it’s actually advantageous just to stand still and get your positioning right.

“He is someone who has watched a lot of football – and his Dad wasnae bad either! So I think he has learned from the fact you don’t have to be flying around the pitch to make an impact on a game.

“It's the cleverness of positioning and where you receive the ball and take it. That’s what he brought (against Livingston) – something just a wee bit different and he created the first goal when we needed it to break them down.”

McAllister hopes midfielder John Lundstram, still settling into his new environment following his summer move from Sheffield United, can take a leaf out of Hagi’s book as the season progresses.

“John is just getting to know our system and where we want him positioned when we are building play,” added McAllister.

“Sometimes his eagerness to try and impact or influence the game, he is running around too much. I suppose with more experience and coaching from the guys in and around the football club, he will definitely get better. But I thought he played very well.

“We don’t want to take (that aggression) away from John. But the facts are he is playing in a system which is new to him.

“It’s very competitive in the middle of the park as well, we’ve probably got six or seven quality midfield players.

“I think it’s his eagerness and willingness to do well, he is maybe trying too hard. But every day in training, he is getting more comfortable with the position and what his role can be in this team.

“He can play in two different positions – as a six or as a running eight. It does take time. All of a sudden he is at a club where we enjoy a lot of possession.

“The team he was playing for, no disrespect to them, didn’t have the ball as much as we do. So there are big differences. He is getting there.”

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