The successes of Romanian football have been limited throughout the years, due to a lack of talent – the national side is currently captained by the Tottenham Hotspur reject, Vlad Chiriches.
But at one point in time, Romanian football was class and was electrifying the world with its underdog status, led by Gheorghe Hagi in the No.10 role. The Maradona of the Carpathians was one of the most exciting players in his time and the embodiment of the golden age of Romanian football.
With the ball at his feet, Hagi was a little magician that who’s unpredictability led him to play at some of the top clubs in Europe, including stints at Barcelona and Real Madrid. Although the time at Barcelona was largely a time to forget with the likes of Hristo Stoikhov, Pep Guardiola, and Ronald Koeman overshadowing Romania’s footballing genius, Hagi’s true ability was revealed in his time at Galatasaray.
Like most players considered to be an all-time great, Gheorghe Hagi was a controversial figure – much like the politically volatile region where he is from.
The class that Hagi displayed at his best was never in question, but you never knew where he would fall on the spectrum. He could be world-class one day and be absolutely dreadful the next. The inconsistency marred his career, but his legacy should be celebrated. In his career, he tallied the second most caps and is tied for the most goals for the Romanian national side. He is a legend and a major key to the success of Romanian soccer as a whole.
Hagi’s masterpiece, the 1994 World Cup in the United States, cemented his status as a Romanian hero and the perfect example of Romania’s golden age. With the height, angry nature for being short, and tricky ability on the ball, the comparison to the great Diego Maradona was natural.
In 1994, he led Romania to a quarter-final appearance where they beat the likes of Argentina and Colombia (when he had an audacious hit from distance) before bowing out to third place team Sweden on penalties. Hagi was the little midfield maestro that led Romania to glory with three goals to his name and landed a spot in the team of the tournament.
Call it a Napoleon complex, but the skilful abilities of the little Romanian were coupled with the same anger that filled Diego Maradona. Whatever the case may be, Gheorghe Hagi’s magic on the ball was always paired with a temper and it was shown fairly often out of frustration. He paved the way for a crybaby like Cristiano Ronaldo to be a lovable villain in the game of soccer; Hagi was passionate on the pitch.
The cult legend that is Gheorghe Hagi fully came to fruition after his disappointing stint at Barcelona. A move to Istanbul and Galatasaray elevated the Romanian to new heights. His impact was felt throughout the club on the field and with the supporters.
From delivering multiple league titles to winning the UEFA Cup in 2000 to punching Tony Adams in that final, Hagi was loved. Gala was the last club he played for and he was arguably in the form of his life. Hagi is not remembered as well as he should be due to the great inconsistently in his career, but the skill of the Romanian legend should never be doubted.