CSABA LASZLO is adamant ‘born leader’ Ianis Hagi has already shown he can overcome his greatest challenge – the name on his back.
And the former Hearts and Dundee United boss has no doubt the precocious playmaker will relish the onerous task of firing Rangers to the title.
Laszlo, the head coach of Romanian top-flight outfit Sepsi OSK, was dazzled by the direct running and eye for goal of Hagi, who was shining with their rivals, Viitorul Constanta.
Hagi’s performances for Viitorul – owned and coached by his iconic father Gheorghe – earned him a €4 million move to KRC Genk last summer, which has ultimately fallen flat, allowing Rangers to secure his services on loan.
But despite a forgettable stint in Belgium, Laszlo is adamant Ianis has already proved he has the character and quality to handle the inevitable comparisons with his dad.
“The biggest problem that Ianis has to face was his name,” recalled Laszlo, who was born in Romania. To say ‘Hagi’ means everything – he is the best football player Romania has ever produced.
“I played against Gheorge during my career and I have coached against him in Romania and he is a true legend here. He has done so much as a player and, even now, runs the most successful academy in the country and set up his own football club [Viitorul].
“So of course it is difficult for Ianis, with people waiting for him to become his father.
“The expectations were so high and that is big pressure. But, I must say, he is such a focused boy and he has handled everything. That says a lot about his mentality.
“He has been a leader at club level, he has been a leader when he stepped up to the full Romania national team. You cannot teach that – you are either born a leader or you are not.”
Hagi’s promise was immediately evident, making his senior debut for Viitorul at the age of 16.
Subsequent stints at Fiorentina and Genk have been largely forgettable but, with 10 caps under his belt at the age of 21, he is still considered the great hope of Romanian football.
Speaking from his home in Bucharest, Laszlo was steadfast in his belief that Hagi can also be the X-factor in a fraught fight for the Premiership title once he comes to terms with the physicality of the SPFL.
“Ianis is two-footed, direct, has an eye for goal and has great football intelligence,” lauded Laszlo. “The Scottish league is a little bit tougher than the league in Romania or Belgium, in a physical sense, so maybe he will need some patience for that but, for footballing talent, he is very special.
“Rangers is a good club for him because I have watched a lot of them and they are trying to play attractive, passing football and that will suit him – you do not take Ianis Hagi to chase long balls!
“Steven Gerrard is a coach has a lot of tactical knowledge and will use him in the right way.
“He is capable of being the player who makes a difference in the fight for the title, 100 per cent.”
And Laszlo is confident that Hagi will play his way into a permanent move to Govan during his initial loan spell.
“I am disappointed that Ianis did not get more chances in Belgium,” he added. “He was not given enough chances, mainly coming from the bench.
“For this reason I am happy to see him more to Scotland to a club like Rangers. It is the platform he needs to improve, become more confident and reach his potential.
“I do not know the exact terms of the agreement [with Genk] but I would expect Ianis to do well enough for Rangers to buy him in the summer.”