Very few footballers make as big an impact as Ianis Hagi did during his short loan spell with Rangers. So much so that the Scottish outfit is doing all they can to make the move permanent despite interest from Serie A.
The ‘Prince of Romania’ and son of ex-Real Madrid legend Gheorghe Hagi, started his season with Genk. After failing to make the no.10 position his own, ‘The Green City’ loaned him out to Rangers for the remainder of the season. Despite his limited match time in Belgium, Hagi managed to pick up six goals and six assists in 31 games. This translates to one goal/assist every 125 minutes, an increase from his previous season of one goal/assist every 156 minutes.
This scout report will better inform the reader of Hagi’s strengths and weaknesses. It will provide and make use of his statistics from this season. By doing so, we can develop an objective foundation that will allow for an accurate evaluation of his ability.
An analysis of the statistics reflects a clear attacking mindset. Firstly, it shows us a player that successfully dribbles past opponents. Secondly, this is a player that effectively executes the key passes of those he sees. Thirdly, the finishing statistics tell us that this player shoots frequently with relative accuracy. Finally, on one hand, Hagi can successfully distribute the ball, both near and far. But on the other hand, he often fails to complete the smart pass. *This is a pass that breaks lines or gives teams an advantage in attack.
Off the ball, the statistics show a possible area for Hagi to improve. Firstly, the 1 vs 1 defending statistic reflects a player that lacks discipline. Secondly, this player underperforms in his defensive duels. Finally, it shows us a player that underachieves in aerial duels.
Statistics are a useful metric for evaluating performance. However, it doesn’t tell us the full story. Let’s add some context using tactical analysis to understand Hagi’s game in greater depth.
Goal Scoring Ability
Hagi has scored 43 goals in his career to date. This is quite a large number for a midfielder of 21 years.
As you can see above, Hagi shots from almost anywhere in the opposition’s half. This includes corners! On top of that, he hits free-kicks, scoring 3 this season.
Furthermore, Hagi has a cunning spatial awareness in the opposition’s box. Above, he delays his run until the ball is crossed. On impact, he leaves his defender and sprints towards the flight of the ball. In doing so, he has left his marker behind, permitting him to strike the ball from a likely goal-scoring position.
According to the stats, Hagi is an effective distributor of the ball. Additionally, he possesses a natural ability to use both feet when passing, shooting and dribbling. However, his inability to complete a smart pass regularly begs the question why?
It’s quite simple really, Hagi’s mentality. He is a player that desperately wants to make a name for himself. This isn’t to say a trait of this kind has no place in football. It does. Yet, in moments, his ego will drive his actions. This manifests in the following aspects of his game; Passing first time, shooting from range, taking many touches and playing through or over, instead of around.
Above left, Hagi scans before receiving the ball. In this scenario he’s received the pass square on, as a result, you’d presume the sensible pass would be infield to Steven Davis. Instead, Hagi arches away from his marker and plays a lofted diagonal pass to Alfredo Morelos. This is, without doubt, the hardest of the available passes to execute. Nevertheless, a positive example of Hagi’s daring attitude, as Rangers get a shot off. However, had the pass been unsuccessful, this would have been a costly error. In this instance, Rangers had enough men to build an attack from.
Ultimately this shows us three things. Hagi possesses the vision to see where the most threatening pass is. As a result, he wants to break lines. He posses a highly-skilled passing technique that allows him to execute the passes he sees. However, these passes come with a greater risk. They are extremely difficult to execute and often end up in the opponent’s possession. However, it’s still early days. His determination to make a name for himself increases the likelihood of him refining and mastering this particular skill.
The Romanian is hard to handle. He has agility, a quick change of pace and immense control under pressure. As a result, many media outlets have drawn comparisons to him and Zidane.
The picture above shows Hagi sprinting down the right-wing. Given his ability to play with both feet, fullbacks struggle to effectively close the space. Let’s take it forward and see what he did next.
The picture above on the left shows what Hagi decided to do. He cut back onto his left and crossed a ball into the six-yard spot. Given his dribbling succession and his scoring ability, Hagi may have decided to follow the white arrows, had the opposing fullback blocked this cross. For example, the picture on the right. Hagi has dribbled inside. Despite the fullback showing him wide right, Hagi’s acute footwork allows him to take one more touch inside. From here, he’s created a goal-scoring opportunity for himself.
Combining the statistics and footage, it is clear that Hagi likes to beat his opposite number. His ability to use both feet creates problems for the opposition as they aren’t sure which way to show him.
Hagi stands at 1.82m tall. Despite this, he doesn’t appear to have the desire to win aerial duels. As a result, he often takes up a post in defensive corners. In defensive transitions, Hagi is slow to react and win back possession. When he does react quickly, he is often quite soft in the challenge and rarely comes away with the ball. Instead, he floats in the spaces between the opposition, waiting for his teammates to win the ball. If they succeed, Hagi’s positioning enables him to receive a pass, get turned and play forward with speed.
Johan Cruyff once said, “It is statistically proven that players actually have the ball three or four minutes on average. The important thing is what you do during those 87 minutes without it.” Should Hagi wish to continue his development in football, I believe that this part of his game requires extra work.
Ok, so we know a few things about Hagi. He is capable off of both feet, he possesses a powerful shot, he likes to dribble past his opponent, he likes to play lofted passes and we know he lacks discipline in defence. The question surrounding Hagi isn’t whether or not he will ‘make it’. No, in fact, it is copiously clear after his performances this season, Hagi can go on to influence matches at European level. Instead, the question is, what position suits his game the best?
Using the pie charts above and the available footage from this season, I will provide an objective perspective. Genk looked to take advantage of Hagi’s playmaking ability. Their tactics meant Hagi was deployed as a central attacking midfielder as part of a 4/2/3/1 formation. In their opinion, the unique blend of Hagi’s capacity to pass and shot off of both feet as well as his skilful talent to beat his man in close quarters made him the perfect candidate. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Playing centrally resulted in Hagi having to deal with two defensive midfielders. This meant he couldn’t utilise his 1 vs 1 ability. It also made it extremely difficult to break lines because of the lack of space. Moreover, playing in midfield also requires defensive capabilities that Hagi doesn’t yet appear to possess. The reality? Hagi never clocked a full 90 minutes at Genk.
Nevertheless, Steven Gerrard had plans for the Romanian. Instead of the central position Hagi had played in Belgium, Gerrard favoured him out wide, as a right-winger in a 4/3/3. The ex Liverpool captain looked to utilise him as an inside forward. From this position Hagi had space. Therefore, he used his exceptional 1 vs 1 ability to bypass wingers. Then he has an option to come inside and shoot or travel around the outside and pass; both qualities of which we know he possesses. In just 10 games, Hagi has scored three times and got one assist. Additionally, by playing right wing, Hagi’s defensive qualities aren’t as detrimental to his squad than had been previously as a midfielder. It would appear that Gerrard has found a position that best suits Hagi’s abilities in and out of possession.
In summary, Ianis Hagi is a player that wants and can influence matches at a European level. His unique ability to dribble past opponents on either side creates problems for the opposition. His attacking mindset manifests as a fast and direct style of play. As a result, possession is either, lost in unforced circumstances, or alternatively, they find themselves in on goal. This part of his game will continue to grow through experiences. Hagi doesn’t like to defend. He lacks discipline and physicality to succeed in duels. All things considered, I believe Hagi is better suited as a right-winger until he perfects his passing ability and develops his physicality.