McAllister, the Rangers assistant manager, revealed he and manager Steven Gerrard spoke with Hagi senior before and after Thursday night’s epic 3-2 Europa League win over Braga.
In the bustling corridors of Ibrox, if it’s one thing these three midfield legends know how to do is find space. Messrs Gerrard, McAllister and Hagi snr broke away from the celebrations to concentrate on the question on everyone’s lips – Ianis Hagi’s long-term future.
Hagi snr was in the crowd at Ibrox for the first time and looked on proudly as Ianis sparked the comeback from 2-0 down with Rangers’ first goal after 67 minutes and then scored the winner with a deflected free-kick eight minutes from the end.
It wasn’t Gheorghe’s first time in Glasgow. Indeed, he’s played at Ibrox before – for Steaua Bucharest and for Galatasaray. He also played for Romania against Scotland in a European Championship qualifier at Hampden Park in 1990, something McAllister, who played opposite him that night, was quick to mention. The visitors fell to goals from John Robertson, on his debut, and Ally McCoist in front of just over 12,000 people.
It was slightly more raucous at Ibrox on Thursday night as fans sought to process how Rangers managed to turn the tie on its head. Hagi jnr was the catalyst and McAllister has re-emphasised a previously stated desire on the part of the management to turn the on-loan Racing Genk player’s move into a permanent one. The clubs have an agreement that Rangers are given first option to sign the player when the loan deal expires at the end of this season.
Hagi only arrived in Glasgow last month but it’s already clear that one of Gerrard’s easiest decisions come the end of the season will be to activate the midfielder’s permanent transfer clause. “If the lad keeps progressing then it’s got to be something we look at,” said McAllister. Hagi’s father also sounds in favour of his son performing at Ibrox for longer than the current campaign.
“I spoke to him (Hagi snr) prior to the game and after the game,” said McAllister. “I had to remind him that we beat them at Hampden 2-1! Just so he wasn’t floating about Ibrox as if he is the top man!
“I have got to say that he was one of my favourite players and I am not just saying that because we have signed his son. Hagi was up there with one of the best players that I have been on the pitch with. I think he is really pleased because he was aware of Ibrox and of Rangers, but I think being there on Thursday night confirmed it that his son is in the right place for his development,” he added. “The fact that there is an expectant crowd, the expectation levels are massive and you have to win every game. I think that is where he sees his son, playing in that theatre where the pressure is on continuously.”
McAllister and Gerrard’s next task is to ensure the players have their thoughts trained on McDiarmid Park by 1.30pm tomorrow, when Rangers are due to kick off against St Johnstone, weather permitting. The assistant manager does not expect wholesale changes given what is at stake. However, he revealed Borna Barisic is out of the Perth fixture after taking a blow to his kidney and is a doubt for Wednesday’s return leg in Braga.
The left-back had only just recovered from a hip injury to take his place in the side on Thursday but was replaced after 73 minutes by Joe Aribo, who proceeded to have an almost instant impact when scoring an inspired equaliser shortly afterwards.
McAllister believes Scottish football has been given greater credibility by the achievements of both Rangers and Celtic in Europe this week. Although much is still to be done by both sides in order to reach the last 16, their exploits to date are set to see Scotland handed a second Champions League place in the 2021/22 season due to a rise in the coefficient standings.
“If both Celtic and us can get through, it would be fantastic for Scottish football,” he said. “I’ve been in England a long time. A lot of people from south of the Border have not really had any interest in Rangers in the past. But my phone is full of messages. They have watched the game. It’s sending a good message.
“You’ve got to earn the right,” he added with reference to the award of a second Champions League place. “The fact that we lost them is because we didn’t do well. This represents progress. We have had a couple of seasons of good results. It’s the hard work of not just this season, but going back a couple of seasons. This run of good form in Europe is only good for the Scottish game because it helps the teams beneath us as well.”