Why Rangers' signing of Ianis Hagi could be a significant coup

The Romanian wants to bring a winning mentality to Ibrox as he becomes the most notable signing of the summer so far

Ianis Hagi stayed right, aware of the space around him, as others were grouped together in the centre. Having hung wide, he collected a pass and then, like a gazelle stalking its prey, made his move.

The Romanian cut inside and fired a shot back across himself, the ball hitting the inside of the Braga post on its way into the back of the net to bring Rangers back into the Europa League last-32 contest.

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When Hagi picked up possession, Steven Gerrard’s side were 2-0 down to their Portuguese opponents. While the home side had opportunities throughout the game it was, at times, as if Braga were simply playing with them, able to step it up at any moment and pierce their way through the Ibrox defence.

Ianis Hagi has completed his permanent switch to Rangers. Picture: SNS

Rangers desperately needed that moment. Not only to halt Braga’s dominance of the match but provide the fans with some belief, some hope that their European journey wasn’t going to end in Govan that February evening.

The goal was a mere introductory message to the one which was to follow via Hagi’s reaction. His gesture was part annoyance, part motivational. From ‘FFS, let’s not go down without a fight’ to ‘follow me, let’s do this’.

Hagi’s problem solving

That evening at a rocking Ibrox he displayed flashes of the brilliance which saw him make his debut for Viitorul Constanța aged 16, coached by his famous father Gheorghe, earn a move to Fiorentina at just 17, and the talent which convinced Genk to part with a substantial fee, reported to be around €8 million, for his services.

Rangers were able to negotiate with Genk over the Hagi deal. Picture: SNS

At 21, he has already packed quite a lot into his career, playing well over 100 games, plus 10 for the Romanian national team.

Yet, at the same time, he’s maybe not at the place in his career some expected, especially when he was put forward for the European ‘Golden Boy’ award in 2018 which counts Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe as previous winners.

Rangers won’t care one jot about that.

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The club have procured a precocious talent, who adds unpredictability, problem solving and an ability to play off both feet which is not a common sight in Scottish football.

There were some question marks from pundits, including ex-Ibrox ace Barry Ferguson, over the fee, but the club have worked well to get a favourable deal which is well below the £4.5m-£5million originally suggested, and paid in instalments.

Those questions were perhaps raised due Hagi’s impact since arriving in Scotland on loan in January. He played 12 times, netting three times and providing two assists. On the face of it not a bad return but, it is easy to conclude, not £5million worth.

Even if we were to usher aside the curtains and look behind the goals and assists, in his league appearances he didn’t stand out when it came to chance creation, shooting, dribbling when compared to team-mates.

But then again, this is a young player moving to a new football culture and being judged after 12 games. His reputation, his name, will have only added to the expectation and increased any scrutiny surrounding him.

He told The Athletic: “Technically it’s not a top league but it’s a really difficult league. You don’t play just three or four games a year it a league where the team parks the bus and stay there and you have to score. This is week in, week out. You have to get used to it and create every single game. It’s difficult as the very first minute you have to create chances. The chances don’t just come.”

It takes time to adjust, and it’s no surprise perhaps when his best moments arrived on the European stage. The goals against Braga at Ibrox, the perfectly-timed clip over the top to set up Ryan Kent in the away leg.

Praise from rivals

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Scotland, as he expressed, offers up different challenges. It can sometimes take time to find the answers and solutions required. Hagi wasn’t helped by the standard of the team as a whole as Rangers slipped away from Celtic in the league and out of the Scottish Cup to bottom place Hearts.

Some fans would like to see Hagi given the platform to act as the team’s creator in a No.10 role as opposed to one of the inverted forward roles in a 4-3-3. Such a position should see him more involved, act as a director, and in some cases dictator, in the final third.

Take his assists against Braga and in the league against Livingston, or when he played back in Romania his best work came from getting balls in central areas. Confidence is not an issue with the player. He has the composure to take the ball in tight areas, craft to hold off opponents and vision to see passes, whether it is sliding a through ball between defenders or a longer more ambitious clip.

What really helps him in such a position is the way he collects the ball. Always side on so he can take it on the move, and on top of that he’s aware of what is happening around him. A familiar move of his is to scan the pitch as the ball comes towards him so he has the schematics in his head.

Tellingly, one of the replies to Rangers’ announcement was from Livingston ace Marvin Bartley, one of the most effective protective midfielders in the Premiership this past season.

He posted: “Not the content you want to see when you’re going to be 34 next season!”

You can learn a lot about a player from the opponents he faced.

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On top of that, Hagi is a player with huge re-sell value, and is one of the youngest players signed by Gerrard. The type of signing which should be the norm for clubs in the Scottish Premiership, whether it is the Old Firm or lower down. Not only do they bring a vibrancy and energy to the team, they allow for development and possible profit-making.

During the 2019/20 campaign, Rangers were the third oldest team in the Premiership on average. Gerrard will likely be wary of such a stat, especially when the club are not winning trophies, and the mental barriers that puts up when at a club which demands so much.

It will be hoped Hagi represents a new breed of player. Young, hungry, ambitious, one which can be moulded into a team identity and mentality.

As Hagi told the Heart and Hand podcast when asked about targets: “Obviously, the only word you can say is win. This is what everybody wants, this is the mentality.”

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