It’s never easy to live in the shadow of a superstar father – just ask Jordi Cruyff, Charlie Sheringham, Paul Dalglish or a whole host of other players with legendary footballers for parents.
But a new breed of second generation prodigies are in town, who don’t seem to be daunted by wearing an iconic name on the back of their shirts.
There are high hopes for Roma’s Justin Kluivert and Lille’s Timothy Weah, while Erling Håland looks set to follow in the footsteps of Frank Lampard by eclipsing the more than respectable career of his father.
Ianis Hagi – son of Gheorghe Hagi, the greatest Romanian footballer of all time – probably lies somewhere in the middle of two extremes when it comes to success and failure.
As yet, the 21-year-old has been unable to break through at one of Europe’s premier teams, having only managed two Serie A substitute appearances while at Fiorentina from 2016-2018.
Some may see that as a black mark against Hagi’s name, but it doesn’t tell the full story of a player who is still developing and has already achieved a great deal at a relatively young age.
The midfielder has won ten full caps for the Romanian national team and also starred for their Under-21s as the Tricolorii reached the UEFA European Under-21s Championship semi-finals in 2019. He’s also enjoyed domestic success in his homeland, winning the Cupa României with Viitorul Constanța and scoring 20 goals in his last two seasons with the club.
Romania’s Liga I may not be the strongest division, but Hagi’s performances earned him a second bite at the cherry in western Europe after his early struggles in Italy – first with Genk in Belgium after a reported €8million transfer, before joining Rangers on loan in January.
There was certainly a feeling in some quarters that this move to Steven Gerrard’s side was a make or break transfer for the youngster. Fail in Scotland and it becomes pretty apparent that you’re unlikely to make the grade in a superior league, but succeed and the opportunity to join a club higher up the food chain could soon be on the cards.
With Europa League football on offer at Ibrox too, a loan deal to Glasgow appeared the perfect opportunity for Hagi to prove his worth to Europe’s elite clubs.
Suffice to say that the gamble has paid off for the Istanbul native. Hagi has taken to life in the SPFL life a duck to water and his outstanding displays for Rangers have reportedly caught the eye of continental giants Real Madrid and Lazio.
It’s easy to see why – a goal record of 0.33 per 90 in all competitions is a healthy output for an attacking midfielder that has largely operated behind frontman Alfredo Morelos, or occasionally out wide on the right-hand side.
His three strikes in nine starts and three substitute appearances have also come at crucial times, most notably a brace against Braga in the Europa League Round of 32. The Gers were in real trouble with an hour played of the first leg, trailing 2-0 at home. But Hagi’s low left-footed drive and deflected free-kick helped turn the tie around and seal a 3-2 victory.
Then there was the league game against Hibernian in February, when the loanee scored the clincher in a 2-1 win – sweeping 89th minute shot into the bottom left corner from a tight angle.
It’s not just the goals of course, or the two assists Hagi has contributed. The combination of speed, agility and technical skill he has displayed at Ibrox has instantly made the playmaker a fans’ favourite in the blue half of Glasgow.
Supporters will be hoping that the club take advantage of a clause to make the deal permanent for £4.3million – assuming that the Romanian wishes to remain in Scotland.
That outcome seems likely and will certainly be high on Gerrard’s wish list, but Felice Mazzu – Hagi’s former manager at Genk – is of the opinion his future should lie elsewhere.
“I think Italy would be a league which suits him perfectly now,” he said.
I know he has already had a spell there at Fiorentina. Now I think he is stronger both technically and tactically. Lazio would be a great move for him.”
Those thoughts have been echoed by former Torino and Manchester City striker Rolando Bianchi.
“In my opinion, Lazio would be a very good move for him, and one which will hold plenty of appeal,” he explained.
“Simone Inzaghi is among the best coaches in Europe when it comes to improving the players under his charge. He would have the potential to form a fantastic partnership with Luis Alberto, but Inzaghi could exploit his flexibility to employ him in almost all roles, in midfield and in attack.”
The Scottish top flight appears to have been the perfect finishing school for Hagi and another season at Ibrox surely couldn’t hurt his development. But only time will tell how much longer he will remain in Glasgow.
The dream of emulating his father’s legacy is still on the cards for Romania’s brightest talent, who could be back in the big leagues sooner than later.