Istanbul. One of the colossal cities of European/Asian heritage. The Jewel in the Crown of the Ottoman & Persian empires to modern day Turkey. The world’s fifteenth largest city that sits majestically on the Bosphorus strait. And a city our story goes all the way back to 1996 and the incendiary history of the club that coined the phrase “welcome to hell”. Galatasaray.
A team well renowned for fireworks on and off the field. Most recently when the one and only Graeme Souness had his somewhat ill-fated spell in charge. 4th in the Turkish lig1, not good enough for a fan base similar to our own which demands success. Souness never shirked a tackle in his illustrious trophy laden career spanning 2 decades. A European Cup winning captain that took no prisoners. And on April 24th 1996, Souness went down in folklore that would still cause ripples amongst some of the most passionate supporters in world football.
Trailing by one goal in the Turkish Cup final, an aggregate score of 1 each with 4 minutes of extra time left and another Liverpool icon, Dean Saunders would score the goal to hand Galatasaray the Turkish cup at the home of their arch rivals Fenerbahce. Souness, who had not long recovered from major heart surgery, then proceeded to place the Galatasaray flag in the centre circle of the pitch.
Cue bedlam. The romanticism of portraying Ulubatlı Hasan who famously planted the Ottoman flag at the end of the siege of Constantinople had just ignited a touch paper that did not need an invite to do so.
This paved the way for the undisputed King of Turkish football, Fatih Terim to take over the following season and start the chain reaction that would end up with a new Prince of Ibrox Park some 25 years later. For this was the start of unrivalled dominance from Galatasaray domestically, culminating in the UEFA Cup victory over Arsenal in a tense penalty shootout that would involve a red card for their talisman. The player signed in 1996. The Iconic Gheorghe Hagi.
I first clapped eyes on Gheorghe Hagi in the summer of 1994. The USA hosting the FIFA World Cup. That tournament alone could fill another blog piece. Romania were in Group A with the much fancied Colombians who had incidentally humbled Argentina in qualifying both at home and also a 5-0 thrashing in Buenos Aires. And so it came on June 18th 1994 at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, I witnessed first hand the majestic wand of a left foot of Romania’s talismanic number 7. On the left touchline, seemingly nowhere to go, a ridiculous chip would catch out the Colombian keeper. Sublime, breath-taking arrogance that marked the arrival of Romania at this World Cup. A genius at work indeed.
Hagi would go on to score twice more as this Dazzling Romania side would go onto the quarter-finals with the agony of penalty kicks sending them home. Not before dispatching the 1990 finalists and 1986 Winners Argentina. Who scored the winner? You guessed It. Hagi.
We were now witnessing footballing Royalty on the biggest stage of all that would earn him a move to FC Barcelona, in the process joining some of the following names in an exclusive group.
All who have swapped the Regality of the Bernabeu for the Colosseum of the Nou Camp.
Returning to Galatasaray, the now UEFA cup holders would, in fact, be drawn in group D with Sturm Graz, Monaco and of course, Glasgow Rangers. A Season and a campaign to forget for Rangers. Finishing 3rd in a group that was there for the taking, as us older Bears will recall. Despite thrashing Sturm Graz 5-0 at Ibrox and beating Monaco away, we simply blew it.
October 17th 2000. A goalless draw under the Ibrox floodlights between Rangers and Galatasaray. Those who witnessed it would have no idea that the Iconic no 7 short bearing the name Hagi would return some 20 years later.
Born October 22nd 1998, in Istanbul. Ianis Hagi. If ever a name to live up to would be a challenge, this is right up there with the greatest.
Most kids of world class footballers will always get a crack at the big time for the name alone. It’s rare that you will actually see a world class Father and Son partnership. Some rare examples for me that spring to mind are Frank Lampard Senior and Frank Lampard, both of West Ham and the younger Chelsea. Some may be being a matter of personal opinion what bracket they fall into as regards being placed on the Pantheon of all-time greats. To name a few:
Peter & Kasper Schmeichel
Alf-Inge & ErlingHaland
Cesare & Paolo Maldini
Danny & Daley Bling
Patrick & Justin Kluivert
Lilian & Marcus Thuram
Ianis Hagi undoubtedly has the ability to join this list as a success story.
A self confessed Galatasaray supporter, Ianis made his way on the game starring for his father’s football academy before signing for Viitorul Constanta aged only 16. A move to Fiorentina followed, although this was followed by a return to his former club after failing to make the breakthrough in Italy that he had hoped to.
Nevertheless, unfazed and a never say die attitude has seen the talented attacking midfielder star for the Romanian U21s in the 2019 Euros that saw Romania progress to the semi-finals, narrowly losing to the Germans. Goals against Croatia and England, as well as some tremendous individual displays, saw Genk of Belgium reportedly pay a fee in the region of Є10m for his services. Fourteen appearances and three goals would once again see his opportunities limited before a stunning January deadline day move to Ibrox.
February 20th 2020. Rangers vs Braga. Europa League last 32.
Rangers are up against a very technically gifted Portuguese side. 2-0 down and staring at not only defeat but a European exit on the 1st leg after 59 minutes played. What happened next will never be forgotten by anyone who was fortunate enough to be in the stadium that cold winter night.
Cometh the man, cometh the hour. Up stepped that famous no 7 shirt to lash home a ferocious left-foot drive to pull a goal back with 23 minutes remaining. This sparked the side into life, and a wonder goal from Joe Aribo would make a frantic last 15 minutes. Then came THE moment. 82 minutes and a free-kick centrally.
As Hagi stepped up, you knew. You simply knew this was it. Yes, it took a massive deflection. It mattered not a jot. Ibrox erupted, and a new Prince was in town. The now Iconic Bow accompanying the phrase “Ibrox Baby, It’s Just Different.”
Finally, Hagi had the platform that his talents undoubtedly deserved. Rangers, on the other hand, had a raw and unpolished Diamond within their ranks. We do not possess the finished article by a long shot; however, the potential is off the charts.
Covid prematurely ended Season 2019/20. Zoom calls & Spam folders settling on field matters rather than the football itself. Nevertheless, we all know what happened next as Rangers came back to take our 55th title. Hagi himself proving to be pivotal in the campaign with some crucial goals and assists.
45 appearances. Eight goals and 15 assists in an unbeaten league campaign. A Championship winners medal and improvement there for all to see. Make no mistake, Hagi is a player that will drift in and out of games. In some games, he will be anonymous for the majority. However, he has that God-given talent of being able to unlock a defence with a moment of brilliance that is a rarity in the Scottish game. Certainly, within the price range that Scottish clubs can now afford. Winners against Hibernian and St Johnstone pivotal in the procession to the title.
This season hasn’t gone so far as planned, going by the high standards set last season. The team has stuttered and struggled for fluidity. Most recently missing a spark for three home games against Lyon, Motherwell and the 1st half against Livingston until the introduction of Hagi at halftime. Almost identical urgency to the Braga game that launched his Ibrox career. This time with a sublime assist, and suddenly Rangers are a different side. 2-0 could have been 6 or 7.
Ianis Hagi is growing into the Rangers shirt, both literally and physically. His stature is evidently bulked up, a necessity for the rigours of the Scottish game. The relief of his return and contribution was there for all to see. Quite frankly, we need to build this team around him. If his progression continues in the trajectory of his father’s legendary Thunderbolts, then we won’t be holding onto him for much longer. The only compensating factor being that we will likely net a transfer fee riches that exceeds anything we as a club have ever received.
Ianis Hagi is pivotal to this side’s chances of winning 56. He is that attacking threat can produce the guile and magic that few others can. His vision and awareness is a thing of beauty.
Our Romanian Prince still has a long way to go before he can be mentioned in the same name as the King of the Hagi Household. However, if he carries on at this rate of progression, I predict that he will have just as good a chance of living up to that famous name and more.
Who could have imagined that fate would have seen Graeme Souness back in 1996 starting the chain of events that would lead to Ianis Hagi being the key player he now has become for Glasgow Rangers.
Next up, we have Dundee at Dens Park. A chance to kick on and make some daylight from our closest title rivals. By that, I mean the Edinburgh clubs. With three away defeats, a victory at Dens would give us as many away wins in the league in the first seven matches as Celtic have managed in the entire of 2021. Angeball? If that’s what they believe as the future, then I’m absolutely all for it.
Rangers need to march on. Play as we did second half against Livingston and improve our game. If we can play to even half of the potential we have, then 56 will be sewn up in no time. The only team capable of ending our dominance is ourselves. Complacency is a far bigger threat than any other SPFL team.
Final words. Ianis Hagi. Player of the year. Watch this space.
Stay humble, Stay safe and remember we well and truly are the people.
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