Rangers star makes fitness vow, shuns transfer talk and reveals big plans for next season
Their trudge through a post-split coda of virtually no consequence begins with today’s meeting with third-placed Aberdeen who arrive at Ibrox 26 points behind their hosts and in no place to challenge Rangers’ status as this season’s runners-up.
The most significant moment of the afternoon will likely unfold at the other end of the M8 where a Celtic victory over Hearts will confirm the Parkhead club’s 11th title in the past 12 seasons. With the Tynecastle tussle kicking off 45 minutes before the game in Govan, the news of Celtic’s coronation could reach the ears of the Rangers players – and their supporters – just as the second half gets underway, a development likely to be as welcomed around Ibrox as an anti-monarchy protester.
Rangers, then, are effectively marking time on the field for the next month but the acceleration of activity behind the scenes – where bodies continue to be bagged one after the other like in the baptism scene in The Godfather – demonstrates that the club is stepping up its preparations for a seismic summer.
The primary spotlight will be trained on Michael Beale’s recruitment revolution as he attempts to metamorphose this squad into genuine title challengers. Beale has hardened his stance with every setback on just how much of an overhaul is required, words that ought to strike a note of panic into every player whose contract is expiring and even a few whose aren’t.
Ianis Hagi, though, is excited by his manager’s thirst for change rather than cowed by it. The Romanian can perhaps afford to look at it from a position of strength having received Beale’s backing last December in the form of a contract extension. Hagi believes an influx of fresh talent can help reinvigorate a team that has lost its way and hopes close bonds and understanding can be forged quickly ahead of the new season.
“As the gaffer said there will be changes in the summer and players will come in,” said the 24 year-old. “I’ve been in the position of coming into the club and you come with some fresh oxygen and a positive vibe.
“If they come with the same hunger to win games then that’s really good. We have to work on our chemistry from day one and integrate every player as soon as possible and then kick on. When the gaffer talks about needing to bring the team to the next level, to bring more quality and needing to win trophies next season – these are positive signs. We’re at a team that’s fighting for four competitions and to me that’s a privilege. It’s exciting, definitely.”
This is Hagi’s fourth season at Rangers but he has so far played in only one from start to finish, having arrived halfway through the Covid-curtailed season before subsequently missing a year of action due to a serious knee injury. With Ryan Kent likely to leave the club and no guarantees that Malik Tillman will return from Bayern Munich, Rangers could come to lean more heavily on Hagi moving forward.
Acknowledging that he is still not fully recuperated from that knee injury, the forward intends to pursue an intensive training programme over the summer to be sure he is at his peak by the time the Champions League qualifiers roll around.
“I have been here for three-and-a-half years but it is a crazy stat that I have just had one full season,” he added. “I know what I did that season, the trophies we won [the league title] and I won as the top assist provider in the league.
“I know what I am capable of and now I want to get myself into a position where I can play a full 90 minutes and play every three days. There are some boxes I still need to tick and that is my focus now. I’ve been out for a year as everyone knows. I’ve had enough time off! Once pre-season starts I want to be ready and not coming in unfit.”
Hagi could well make his first league start since returning from injury this afternoon. Although a player familiar to Beale from the manager’s first stint at the club, it is still unclear just where the Romanian international might fit into the first-team jigsaw, whether as a wide player, central attacking threat or even a withdrawn second striker.
“I think the gaffer knows me well enough and what I can bring to the team,” he added. “If the role of the number ten in this team is to play wide then I will do that. If it is to play central then I will do that as an eight, a ten or a false nine.
“I have played every position up front. All five positions for me are really good as long as the team knows my role and what they’re asking of me. The season comes to an end quite fast for me but I hope I get as many minutes as possible over these last five games.”
Hagi has never been short of admirers despite his lack of recent first-team action, with Celta Vigo, Galatasaray and Borussia Monchengladbach all credited with an interest in recent months. The former Fiorentina player, shrewdly, doesn’t guarantee he will definitely still be at Rangers next season but doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to move on.
“I signed for Rangers and then committed my future in December when I signed my contract extension,” he shrugs. “I don’t know what else I can say. It’s noise from outside that I can’t control. What I can say to the fans is that I’m committed to getting back to fitness as soon as possible so I can play for this club as much as possible. I love being at this football club. And I love the fans so much, as they probably know.”
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