‘I’m sorry it didn’t happen’: Gheorghe Hagi admits he would have loved to play for Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United, and that Tottenham Hotspur showed interest
Gheorghe Hagi has admitted Kevin Keegan tried to sign him for Newcastle United in the mid-1990s, while Tottenham Hotspur also offered the Romanian star a contract at the same time.
However, a call from Johan Cruyff ultimately determined Hagi’s decision, the Dutch manager convincing him to sign for Barcelona instead of join the Premier League.
Hagi does admit the difficulty of his decision in rejecting Keegan, but he did get to play at St. James’ Park in his glittering career while playing for Romania at Euro 96. Unfortunately for Hagi, he captained his nation to two 1-0 defeats against France and Bulgaria, his talent not enough to inspire Romania to results on either occasion.
“Tottenham also came with an offer that was really good, but the money didn’t matter so much – when Cruyff calls you in person and asks you to go to Barcelona, it’s hard to say no.”
After some memorable performances at the 1994 World Cup, Barcelona signed Hagi for £2m from Brescia. While he immediately won the Supercopa de Espana, the Romanian failed to properly break into Barca’s first-team during his two seasons at Camp Nou.
After just 36 appearances in La Liga, Hagi was on the move again in the summer of 1996, with the Premier League certainly an option for the then-31-year-old. He chose against English football, though, as he explains.
“In 1996 a lot of rumours linked me to various clubs in the Premier League, but I opted to head closer to Romania and sign for Galatasaray,” Hagi explains.
“Their project was big: they were aiming to build continental success. I definitely would have loved to play in England, though – it’s a league that I liked and followed. I still watch it now. There’s a fantastic football culture. I was always loved and respected in England, and I had some great performances against English opposition – I think I never lost against them.
“It would have been great to play in the Premier League, but it probably wasn’t meant to be. I’m sorry it didn’t happen. I believe fans would have enjoyed my style.”
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