I’ve written a lot about players who made their careers in the late 90s- early 2000s, the Ronaldo’s, Zidane’s and Bergkamp’s of this world. That is simply because those are the players I have seen play the most, the majority of their careers have been played out in the 15 or so years I have been following football. The subject of this week’s profile had some of his best years long before I, and many of you, were born or interested in football. However, his talent was such that even at the back end of his career he was still playing at a phenomenally high level. The Maradona of the Carpathians – Gheorghe Hagi
Name: Gheorghe Hagi
Date of Birth: 5th February 1965
International Caps/Goals: 124/35
The career that spawned so many nicknames (the aforementioned Maradona of the Carpathians, The Commander and The King) began at Farul Constanta in 1982 aged 17. The prodigious talent didn’t even finish his first season at Constanta before being signed by Sportul Studentesc where he really began to make a name for himself. His robust attacking style drew many plaudits and aged just 18 he was called up to the Romanian national team. He would continue to play for the national team for the next 17 years. Hagi’s career at Sportul Studentesc was littered with moments of brilliance and it was fast becoming obvious that he was head and shoulders above his opponents. Over his 4 year career at Studentesc Hagi scored 58 times in 108 games; that is just over 1 goal every 2 games, from midfield. His talent was such that in 1987 reigning European champions Steaua Bucharest signed him from Studentesc on a 1 game loan, solely for the purpose of him playing in the European Super Cup against Dynamo Kiev. Bucharest won the game 1-0, guess who scored the goal?
Yes, it was Gheorghe Hagi. Unsurprisingly Bucharest were reluctant to see him return to Studentesc so they signed him on a permanent basis. A frankly ridiculous run of trophies ensued. In 3 seasons at Steaua Bucharest Hagi, and his teammates, won the league and cup double each season and also managed to reach the final of the European cup in 1989. His ridiculous run of goals continued: 97 league games and 76 goals. Again, I’m stressing he was not a striker, he was a midfielder and these goals are not scruffy 2 yard tap ins. Take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mTnWfbXk28
Following the 1990 World Cup, in which Hagi represented a Romanian side who were knocked out in the second round on penalties by the Republic of Ireland, Real Madrid came calling and Hagi left the Romanian league for Spain. It has to be said that he struggled to adapt to the Spanish style of play and after 2 years he moved to Italy to join Serie B side Brescia. In his own inimitable way he helped Brescia return to the top division of Italian football and travelled to America to represent his country in the 1994 World Cup. He scored one of the more memorable goals of the tournament with this strike against Colombia:
The question was did he mean it? Because he is Gheorghe Hagi I’m going to say he did.
Following the World Cup Hagi became one of the few players to have played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona when he joined the Catalan club. The 2 years he spent in Barcelona were largely unremarkable and he joined Galatasary in 1996. After joining the Turkish side aged 31 Hagi’s career was subject to a renaissance as he became part of one of the most successful periods in the club’s history. He was part of a team that won 4 consecutive league titles and, in 2000, the UEFA Cup. This was a first for a Turkish club and served to cement Hagi’s place in the hearts of Galatasary’s fans.
Following his retirement in 2001 Hagi took up management, most notably at Galatasary and as the coach of the Romanian national team. In 2011, following a poor run of results during his 2nd stint as Galatasary boss he was sacked and has since become a UN Ambassador.
Hagi was a mercurial talent, like many of the players I have written about, he had the ability to produce something out of nothing and completely take over a game. While his hot headed nature may have got him in trouble from time to time it is inarguable that on a list of players you would want to see in full flight Hagi would be right up there. Welcome to the team, “Commandante.”