Gheorghe Hagi: ‘I took a lot of risks because of the passion I have for football’

Viitorul Constanta, the club Hagi formed eight years ago, have won the Romanian title and are about to enter the Champions League. So how has he done it?

Gheorghe Hagi has been talking for almost an hour when, not for the first time, he shoots a glance at the adjacent training pitch. Viitorul Constanta’s Under-17 and Under-19 squads are going through their paces under the late-afternoon sun and on several occasions there has been the sense that Hagi, watching from the corner of his eye, is having to restrain himself from darting across to correct certain imperfections. “Look at this,” he says, waving an arm out into the heat. “This is not about money; that’s the last thing for me. This is about work – work and dedication.”

Nobody leaves this smart facility, five kilometres from the beaches of Mamaia and their swarms of Black Sea holidaymakers, without that outlook being seared upon them but the fruits of Hagi’s work are about to go on show to the wider world. Viitorul’s senior team will play their first Champions League fixture on Wednesday when the Cypriot side Apoel visit for a third qualifying round first leg; they earned that right through winning Romania’s Liga I last season despite having one of its smallest budgets, a remarkable feat that outstripped every projection Hagi had made for his club when he founded it in 2009. At that point the professional squad was intended merely as a finishing school for the academy before it. The aim was to give something back to the sport that made him; to help young Romanian players become great, just as he had been. If their path has been accelerated beyond all imagining it is the result of a constant, clear vision that has left Viitorul’s more storied rivals trailing.

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