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Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 11:59 GMT
Hagi's step too far
Gheorghe Hagi
Hagi celebrates Galatasaray's Uefa Cup triumph
BBC Sport Online's Phil McNulty profiles the erratic genius of Romania's Gheoghe Hagi - a man on the brink after attacking a referee.

Romania's Gheorghe Hagi fashioned his career under the flamboyant nickname of "The Maradona of the Carpathians" - and the comparisons stretch to more than football.

Hagi and Maradona possessed sublime football gifts and a fragile temperament that will have them remembered as much for scandal as skill.

The gifted Romanian continues to delight and disgust in equal measure at Galatasaray, but even Hagi may have finally gone too far in a career littered with controversy.

Hagi reacted to a Galatasaray goal being disallowed against Genclerbirligi at the weekend by spitting at referee Erol Ersoy and then stamping on his feet before being dragged away by team-mates.


Hagi, an influential player in Europe and the World, is unfortunately not being punished for his ungentlemanly conduct towards rival players on the pitch or for his flagrantly aggressive behaviour towards referees
  Fenerbahce statement on Hagi
And then, while standing in a deep hole, Hagi continued to dig at a suicidal rate with a savage verbal attack on the referee.

He said: "The ref's a thief. He came to steal three points off us but couldn't. I apologise, I lost myself."

It now appears Hagi may be able to lose himself for seven months if a suspension is confirmed, a punishment which may may finish the career of this durable 35-year-old.

Hagi has always seemed destined to end his career with a flourish, the only question being on which side of the thin dividing line between magic and madness he would finish.

He is rightly regarded as the greatest Romanian player of all time, and he has shone on the highest stage for both club and country.


The ref's a thief and he came to steal three points off us but couldn't
  Gheorghe Hagi
The six times Romanian player of the year made his international bow back in 1983, but hit the peak of his powers in 1994 when his brilliance led Romania to the last eight in the United States.

He had spells with the two undisputed giants of Spanish football, Real Madrid and Barcelona, and also played for Brescia in Italy.

Hagi's career is fondly remembered in his homeland for a brilliant spell at Steua Bucharest, when he inspired them to the 1989 European Cup Final, before being beaten by AC Milan.

He moved to Turkey and Galatasaray in 1997 in what was seen by many as the winding down of the great man - but his arrival has co-incided with a golden period for the club on the field


I have no doubt that foul was intended to break my leg and I hope he reflects on this when he sees it
  Italy's Antonio Conte after Hagi's Euro 2000 tackle
Hagi was instrumental as Galatasaray beat Arsenal in the Uefa Cup Final last season - but marred what had been a masterly performance before the Turks' penalty victory by picking up a red card.

And that is the Hagi dilemma - do we remember the delightful skills or the dark side?

Hagi was at his best in Euro 2000 in France until he disgraced himself again in the quarter-final against Italy when he was sent off for two bookable offences.

He angered Antonio Conte, finishing his tournament with a shocking challenge that left the Italian with badly torn ankle ligaments.

Gheorghe Hagi
Hagi is sent off in Euro 2000G
Conte complained: "I have no doubt that foul was intended to break my leg. I hope he reflects on this when he sees it."

Age has not mellowed Hagi, and late last year Fenerbahce demanded disciplinary action be taken against him when the traditionally explosive Istanbul derby descened into an ill-tempered affair.

Fenerbahce even issued an official statement condemning Hagi after a game containing ten yellow cards.

It read: "Galatasaray's Hagi, an influential player in Europe and the World, is unfortunately not being punished for his ungentlemanly conduct towards rival players on the pitch or for his flagrantly aggressive behaviour towards our referees in the match."

Fenerbahce were particularly incensed that Hagi was allowed to push the referee away to make room for a free kick in the goal-less draw.

Hagi's admirers - and there are many - will simply claims this is part of the package, a price on the ticket for his unique talent.

His detractors - and they are there in equal number - will complain that this sinister side to his character will always overshadow his achievements and talent.

The man himself probably doesn't care - but that's Gheorghe Hagi.

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See also:

19 Jun 00 |  Euro2000
Replacing the irreplacable
25 Jun 00 |  Romania
Hagi protests his innocence
24 Jun 00 |  Romania
Hagi's bald move
30 Jan 01 |  Europe
Galatasaray keen to keep Hagi
27 Nov 00 |  Europe
Hagi upsets rivals
01 Aug 00 |  Europe
Romania send Hagi SOS
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