Maradona of the Carpathians

The ‘Maradona of the Carpathians’ needs little introduction. Romania’s greatest-ever player has played more games and scored more goals for his country than anyone else, and though robbed of some pace, he still possesses a considerable threat, particularly with his left foot. The six-times Romanian Player of the Year is a veteran of five international tournaments, including the 1984 European Championships, having made his debut in 1983. Georghe is the youngest of the 3 children of the Hagi family. He has 2 older sisters, Sultana and Elena. Around this house Hagi played football for the first time. When Hagi was 6 years old, his mother gave him a present: Hagi’s first ball. Josif Bukossi, coach of kids and juniors from Constanta, was Hagi’s first coach. In 1976, when Georghe was 11 years old, he played his first official game at “Hope Cup 6-th Edition”. After two years Hagi was an officially licensed player at Farul Constanta club, in the first division.

He was at the peak of his powers in the 1994 World Cup, when he inspired Romania to the quarter-finals with a stunning long distance shot against Colombia in the group stage and the decisive third goal in a thrilling 3-2 second-round win against Argentina. He retired after the 1998 World Cup, only to be persuaded to return, and the player voted Romanian Player of the Century is still undecided about whether to quit after Euro 2000. If his performance against Germany is anything to go by, despite a booking for dissent, he can certainly expect to prolong his international career as long as that other old-timer, Lothar Matthaeus. Didn’t have one of his best games against Portugal and got him another booking, which means he will miss the match against England. What was supposed to be a celebration for Hagi turned into a disaster against the Italians in the quarterfinals. In his 124th cap - and probably last in competitive football - he was sent off for a second offence. Just five minutes after felling Conte he performed a triple salco in the box, on the hour mark, giving the referee no choice but to give him his marching orders for ungentlemanly conduct. As he walked off he knew what he had done and, despite the normal run of accusations of bad refereeing after the match, he will regret it. Prior to his sending off he was his usual unsurpassable self, using his left foot to dictate the play in midfield. Was involved in a fascinating battle with Paolo Maldini, which was unfortunately ended when Maldini was injured just after half time. Before he left the international scene he did leave us with one piece of genius to remember him by.

Prior to his third retirement in 2001, he won 125 international caps, scoring 35 goals. Hagi has since returned to football as a coach. He became the Head Coach of the Romanian national team in 2001, although he only lasted six months as the team failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. He then took over as coach of Turkish first division side Bursaspor but left that club after a disappointing start to the season. After an 18-month hiatus spent running a coastal Black Sea hotel and appearing in television commercials, he has now returned to club management at the helm of the club at which he won his first European trophy, Galatasaray. In March 2004, Pelé named him among the top 125 living footballers. Belying his 35 years, he rushed through on the right and chipped the stranded Toldo from fully 40 yards. The ball hit the post. If it had gone in it would have been the stuff of legends.