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UEFA U21 Championship

Future Ballon d'Or contender? Ianis Hagi making a name for himself at Under-21 Euros

4:00 PM MYT 27/06/2019
Ianis Gheorghe Hagi Romania
The son of the former Real Madrid and Barcelona attacking midfielder has already netted twice during his nation's remarkable run to the semis

As Romania's No.10 was mobbed by delirious team-mates, chants of 'Hagi! Hagi! Hagi!' rang out around the Stadio Dino Manuzzi in Cesena.

For football fans of a certain vintage, the nostalgia was almost overwhelming.

Exactly 25 years after Gheorghe Hagi lit up the World Cup in the United States, his son Ianis is now doing likewise as part of a wonderful Romania team at the European Under-21 Championship in Italy.

The 20-year-old attacker has already netted twice, opening his account in a 4-1 rout of Croatia in San Marino before striking again in the 4-2 upset of a heavily fancied England side in Cesena.

Both goals came courtesy of his left foot; comparisons with his father were inevitable.

Ianis, though, is just as strong with his right, as he underlined with an outrageous pass from deep inside his own half for George Puscas in the 0-0 draw with France that secured Romania top spot in a group that they had been expected to prop up.

Romania and their supporters have been the feel-good story of the tournament.

With all due respect to the senior squads that reached the last 16 of the 1998 World Cup and the quarter-finals of Euro 2000, the Under-21s have captured the imagination of the Romanian public like no other side since Hagi Senior, Gheorghe Popescu, Dan Petrescu, Florin Raducioiu and Ilie Dumitrescu became national heroes in 1994.

Mirel Radoi's boys had an estimated 10,000 fans cheering them on against France in Cesena on Monday night.

There could be even more present for Thursday evening's semi-final showdown with reigning champions Germany at the Stadio Renato Dall'Ara in Bologna.

Gheorghe will certainly be there, anyway. He has attended every game so far, which is not in the least bit surprising.

He has been his son's biggest supporter since Ianis first started kicking a ball as a toddler in Istanbul, during his father's spell at Galatasaray.

When Ianis signed for Fiorentina in July 2016, at just 17 years of age, Gheorghe said it was merely the first step on the path to superstardom.

"I am sure that Ianis will have a great career," Hagi Senior told Goal. "He's an ideal No.10. I hope that he can become better than I was."

Ianis, though, barely got a chance to show what he could do, afforded just two Serie A appearances in 18 months at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.

After re-signing Ianis for Viitorul Constanta – a club founded, owned and managed by Gheorghe, with an excellent reputation for developing young players – the former Real Madrid and Barcelona trequartista launched a stinging tirade against Fiorentina.

"The sporting director [Pantaleo Corvino] does everything," he fumed in February of last year.

"It's worse than in Romania than during the dictatorship of the general [Nicolae Ceausescu, between 1967 and 1989].

"I have produced as many players as he boasts about.

"Fiorentina has a budget of €100 million and they're in 11th place with [former coach Stefano] Poli.

"In Florence, everyone was curious to see Ianis play. He did great things with the Primavera but they didn't let him grow.

"Fiorentina has lost a great player that one day will be able to compete for the Ballon d'Or."

Gheorghe could obviously be accused of bias when it comes to appraising his son's potential but Ianis is undoubtedly a young man blessed with great talent.

As well as being two-footed, he is intelligent, has great vision and is mentally strong. Not once has he struggled with the expectations that always come with having a famous father.

"Carrying the surname Hagi on your jersey certainly brings with it a certain pressure," Ianis told Goal.

"But I was born with this pressure. So, it's not something that creates problems for me any longer."

He has made that abundantly clear in Italy, where he is now belatedly making a name for himself after his trying time in Florence – and attracting interest from the likes of Sevilla in the process (sporting director Monchi previously considered signing him for Roma).

Former Viola coach Pioli never had any doubts about Ianis’ technique; it was more a question of physique.

Gheorghe, unsurprisingly, always found such concerns ridiculous, arguing that his son’s game – like his own – is based on brains rather than brawn.

Ianis, though, didn't need his father to teach him that particular lesson, though. He learned it from watching basketball star Steph Curry.

Ianis considers Gheorghe his “mentor” – he speaks with his father before every game he plays, picking up “the tricks of the trade”, as he puts it – but is the Golden State Warriors guard that he identifies as his “role model”.

"I really like him because he's managed to make it in the NBA even though nobody believed in him because he was small," Ianis told Goal.

"Through his hard work and dedication, he managed to become one of the strongest players in the world."

He now hopes to do likewise. Or, at the very least, prove himself a great player in his own right.