Rangers fans everywhere rejoiced back in January when Ianis Hagi made his return from injury as a substitute in the side’s 2-0 victory at Ibrox against St Johnstone.
It marked the Romanian’s first appearance in over a year after sustaining a severe ACL injury during the 2022 Scottish Cup match against Stirling Albion.
At the time, it appeared like a nothing knock, but it proved to be a big blow, not just to Hagi himself, but to the team as a whole as he’d be a big miss as the team lost their lead, and subsequently their title back to Celtic.
A popular figure within the squad, Ianis Hagi had contributed massively in the two years prior to his lay-off, especially during the 55 winning season of 2020/21 where he provided eight goals and 15 assists in all competitions.
It was numbers like this that led to fans believing his return would be the equivalent of a new season that would add something extra to a side who’d been struggling just months prior, leading to the sacking of Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and the appointment of Michael Beale.
Unfortunately, this didn’t exactly come to pass last season. Given the intensity of both chasing down the title, as well as two cups, Beale choose to slowly re-integrate Hagi back into the fold.
As a result, his game time was limited, playing just 45 minutes of League football prior to the split. By the time the season had concluded, he’d played 11 times, scoring one goals and being involved in an average of 30 minutes per game.
Not quite the amount of game time you need when recovering from a serious injury, and it showed when he got his minutes. He looked laboured at times getting up and down the pitch, whilst his touch and pass still lacked the crispness he’d become known for during his previous seasons.
Such displays brought with it a mixed reaction from supporters, with some happy to cash in on a player who may struggle to reach his previous standards, with others willing to see how a full pre-season under his belt would help him.
We got our first glimpse of Hagi 2.0 in full swing this past Tuesday in the opening game of pre-season against Newcastle.
However, in this game, Hagi would come on a substitute not in his traditional attacking midfield role, but playing slightly deeper in the middle of the park.
And whilst it is still early doors, the difference in eight weeks of clear to see. It was almost as if the fear and trepidation that was evident in his game post-comeback had disappeared.
He looked much more sharp on the ball and was starting to find his range again with his passing. Whilst a lot of this will be down to the work put in in Germany last week, the change of positioning could be a master stroke move from Beale.
Not a player naturally blessed with pace before his knee injury, you’d struggle to see how Hagi could force his way consistently into the forward line, especially one in which Beale has clearly focussed on bolstering with both power and pace.
However, playing slightly further back in a midfield three, it can allow Hagi to mitigate those weaknesses and make use of his biggest strength which is his ability to link the play and get assists. This could be particularly useful late in games when Rangers are struggling to break down the stubborn low blocks that have often plagued them in seasons past.
When you add Hagi into the mix of central deep lying playmakers, alongside Todd Cantwell, Kieran Dowell and Tom Lawrence, then it offers a much more refreshing and forward thinking alternative to that area of the pitch as opposed to players like John Lundstram, Ryan Jack and Glen Kamara.
Having looked primed for the exit door this summer, it appears as though Ianis Hagi has been willing to reinvent himself, and with it, seemingly increased his prospects of being a big player in the Michael Beale revolution.