Just over 20 years since making his FC Steaua Bucuresti debut as a player, former Romania international Gheorghe Hagi is preparing to lead the club into Europe for the first time.
Hagi was an instant hit with Steaua in February 1987 when just days after signing from FC Sportul Studentesc the then 22-year-old scored the only goal of the game in the European champions' UEFA Super Cup victory against FC Dynamo Kyiv. Now back at the helm of the Bucharest club, Hagi will be looking for similar success away to Polish champions Zagłębie Lubin in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League.
Steaua reached the group stage of the competition for the first time in ten years last season and the pressure is on to get just as far again. "When you come to a club like Steaua you have to have the proper mentality, to win everything," said Hagi, who despite a successful career in Europe as a player has never coached in a European tie. "If you don't have this mentality then there is no point in showing up at the stadium."
Hagi replaced Cosmin Olaroiu as Steaua coach last month and got off to a winning start in his first competitive match on Friday, a 2-1 victory at home to FC Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt on the opening day of the Romanian season. Nicolae Dica scored both goals for Steaua, one from the penalty spot, and twice hit the crossbar during an exhilarating performance that filled Hagi with hope for the trip to Poland. "Dica is the sort of player who can decide a match on his own," Hagi said. "He is vital. We should have won by more but I'm satisfied with the way we played. We are moving in the right direction and now we're focusing solely on the matches against Zagłębie."
Steaua will be without several key players for Tuesday's first leg. Centre-back Sorin Ghionea, forwards Victoras Iacob and Valentin Badea and midfielder Vasilica Cristocea are all nursing long-term injuries, while left-back Ifeanyi Emeghara compounded Hagi's problems when he limped out of training with a muscle problem last week. All the more reason to approach the tie with caution.
"When you play football, you need to show your opponent respect," said Hagi, who won the UEFA Cup as a player with Galatasaray SK. "Respect means to know him well, to analyse his game and his strong and weak points and to find ways to beat him. Normally we would be favourites against Zagłębie, but the fact they are Poland's champions says everything about their strength. We will have to be very careful."
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