Ianis Hagi: Rangers speculation intensifies as Romanian's Ibrox influence laid bare

The announcement this week of a share issue aimed at raising £6.75 million was a reminder of the ongoing need for Rangers to attract outside investment as they emerge from what the club’s board of directors describe as their ‘recovery phase’.

Ianis Hagi made a significant contribution to Rangers' success in 2020-21 with eight goals and 15 assists in his 46 appearances for the Scottish champions. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

But that won’t be the only source of funding the Scottish champions look towards this summer as they attempt to embark on a period of growth both on and off the pitch.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard may or may not have had his tongue in his cheek when, on the day his squad lifted the Premiership trophy last month, he declared that potential suitors for his title-winning players ‘had better bring an army with them’ if they hoped to sign any of them.

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Gerrard knows that the reality of the situation is that Rangers have to move to a business model which sees them make significant profits on the sale of players whose value has been enhanced during their time at Ibrox.

Ianis Hagi in action for Romania in their friendly defeat at home to Georgia on Wednesday night. (Photo by Vasile Mihai-Antonio/Getty Images)

While Gerrard has already moved to strengthen his squad for next season with the capture of Zambian international striker Fashion Sakala on a four-year contract, the probability is that at least one of his current first team players will be moving on if a suitable offer emerges.

Surplus to requirements?

In recent weeks, much of the chatter around which Rangers player is most likely to be sold has centered on Ianis Hagi. Turkish giants Galatasaray, where his father Gheorghe has legendary status, and Lazio are among the many admirers of the Romanian playmaker.

There is also a school of thought which reasons that losing Hagi would not be as much of a blow to Rangers as the departure of some of their other prize assets such as left-back Borna Barisic, midfielder Glen Kamara, winger Ryan Kent and striker Alfredo Morelos who are all on the radar of a host of major clubs.

Ianis Hagi reacts after taking a painful knock during Romania's match against Georgia in Ploiesti on Wednesday night. (Photo by Vasile Mihai-Antonio/Getty Images)

But the perception that Hagi has failed to fully establish himself as a key player under Gerrard since his £3.15 million move from Belgian club Genk last year simply doesn’t hold up under closer scrutiny.

For although the 22-year-old only completed seven full 90 minutes for Rangers across all competitions in the 2020-21 campaign, he played a major role in both their Premiership triumph and impressive run to the last 16 of the Europa League.

Hagi made 46 appearances in total, 33 of them in the starting line-up and another 13 from the bench. He scored eight goals but, most tellingly, provided 15 assists. That’s the same number as the more lauded Kent and only one fewer than captain James Tavernier who topped both the goals and assists charts.

Valued by Gerrard

There’s no doubt that Hagi is as technically gifted as any player on Rangers’ books right now. While the frenetic nature of Scottish football can often see him unable to get as much time on the ball as he would like, Hagi possesses a rare eye for the kind of pass which undoes opposition defences.

Gerrard has no doubts about Hagi’s top level quality which is why the Ibrox boss wants him around for Rangers’ Champions League qualifiers in August.

That has caused a potential issue with Hagi keen to represent Romania at the Olympic Games football tournament in Japan, which could rule him out of at least some of Rangers’ European fixtures.

Hagi, under contract until 2024, has displayed no sign of being anything other than content working under Gerrard, even though he has also made no secret of his ambition to follow in his father’s footsteps and play for Galatasaray one day.

It remains to be seen whether Rangers would consider letting that day come sooner rather than later but it would be foolish to believe they would not be diminished in some way by his departure.

No fire sales

Gerrard certainly won’t be looking to offload anyone before the Champions League qualifiers are concluded. If he can guide Rangers back to the group stage of Europe’s elite tournament for the first time in 11 years, it would provide a transformative boost to the wider efforts to return the club to financial sustainability.

Rangers deputy chairman John Bennett, one of the investors who have continually underpinned the club’s steady restoration since former chairman Dave King forced regime change in 2015, made it clear recently that the inevitable move towards pulling in major transfer fees for players will only be done on their terms.

“Eyebrows were raised last summer when we signed Cedric Itten, Kemar Roofe and Ianis Hagi and made no sales,” observed Bennett.

“So when I talk about player trading, it doesn’t mean you sell at prices that are undesirable, don’t meet your valuation and don’t meet the medium and long term plan.

“This is very well thought out – no fire sales but planned player trading. We are on the cusp of that.”

Bennett also indicated that continued backing will be provided for Gerrard to add further fresh faces to his squad as Rangers try to build from a position of strength.

“Recruitment is king here,” added Bennett. “Where we are now is absolutely about quality over quantity.

“We showed that last summer with Kemar Roofe and the other signings.

“I think we are a very highly respected team in European football again.

“We knew what we had to do last year in the teeth of Covid. We did it and we took that calculated risk.

“And we will go for quality over quantity again but we have to do it within the confines of a sustainable model.

“That is in the interests of absolutely everybody. It would be reckless to do it in any other fashion.”

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