"I am so proud of my father, but I have to make my own way," said Ianis Hagi, who is the talk of Romania after being given his debut, aged 16, by father Gheorghe Hagi.
Article top media content
Not the youngest Romanian debutant (that would be Nicolae Dobrin who played his first game aged 14 years and 11 months in July 1962), nor the first son to be given a first league outing by a famous coaching father (see: Dan Savu, Gheorghe Nuţescu, Ilie Daniel Stan), but Ianis Hagi's first Divizia A match on 5 December caused a huge stir in Romania regardless.
After all, the 16-year-old midfielder introduced 88 minutes into FC Viitorul Constanţa's 2-1 home defeat by FC Botoșani is not the son of any old footballing father. Gheorghe Hagi made his own league debut for FC Farul Constanţa aged 17 and went on to become the 'Maradona of the Carpathians', playing for FC Steaua Bucureşti, Real Madrid CF, FC Barcelona and Galatasaray AŞ among others, with 125 international caps cementing his reputation as the greatest player in Romanian history.
"Ianis has some experience training with our first team and I decided to let him play," said Gheorghe, 49, who oversees his son's development in his Gheorghe Hagi Academy in Constanta as well as coaching Viitorul. "Step by step, he will adapt to playing with the senior team. Whatever happens, he and his young colleagues from the academy are our future."
Captain of Romania's Under-17 side, Ianis was born in Istanbul in 1998 during his father's time with Galatasaray, and was one of the first batch of students to attend Hagi Sr's academy when it opened in 2009. He has helped his club win two national age-group titles already, but there is no suggestion Gheorghe has given his son preferential treatment.
In fact, Gheorghe has been eager to talk down his boy's potential – and Ianis knows he cannot expect any favours. "Honestly, it was a huge surprise for me when my dad told me I was coming on," Ianis said after the Botoşani game. "I am well aware how hard I have to work to get to the top. I am so proud of my father, but I have to make my own way in life."
However, the next big challenge he has set himself would see him follow a step further in his father's footsteps. "I don't want to go overboard but I would love to join Steaua some day," he said, adding: "I have supported Steaua since I was a little boy." Dad understands. "Children like Steaua and it is important to have a team to aim for," said Gheorghe, who won three titles, two Romanian Cups and reached the 1988/89 European Champion Clubs' Cup final with Steaua. "That is an aim, but for the moment it's only talk. He has to work and develop."
Exactly what the future holds for Ianis is the subject of vast interest, with plenty of excitement over how he might perform in the UEFA European U17 Championship elite round with Romania in March. "First I have to work and to develop and to be serious in order to have a good career," Ianis Hagi concluded. Romanian fans have their fingers crossed that he will.