After retirement, Gheorghe Hagi, Romania’s best ever player and arguably one of the best players in the world in the 1980s and 90s, couldn’t find a place for himself in Romanian football so he created one on his own. FC Viitorul (which roughly translates to ‘The Future’) was founded by Hagi in his home county 8 years ago and just recently, they lifted their first title. He invested his own money in building the academy’s facilities on a ground that used to be a corn field. A remarkable success for the former number 10 who is not only the club owner but also first team manager.
Back in 2007, just a couple of months after being given the job, Steaua Bucharest’s manager, Gheorghe Hagi announced his resignation from the club, after a slow start with a few poor displays. The one who forced him to leave was not only the man who owned the club but also Hagi’s godfather. Hagi simply lost patience with Gigi Becali‘s meddling. “I have never been so humiliated, I was tortured second by second.”
The Romanian had another short spell in Turkey at his other beloved club Galatasaray before deciding that he needed to leave. Then, for a while, it seemed he could no longer find a place that suited his ambition and instead of having to work integrate into a tense environment, Hagi decided it’s much better to start from scratch.
As a way to give something back to football, Hagi was thinking for a long time of a project where he could give young players a chance to perform. “The King” was still at Galatasaray when the first discussions got underway with Pavel Peniu, the current president of his Academy and a former colleague at Farul Constanta, the team where Hagi debuted at 17. Hagi visited the Academies of Ajax and Barcelona from where he took a lot of inspiration, from the type of organization to the preferred team formation (4-3-3). He organised lots of trials in the country and brought in the most talented young players from Romania, giving them a place to stay, a place to study and professional training sessions for free. The €10 million investment started 8 years ago.
In the summer of 2013, four years after he kicked off the investment at the Academy, Hagi’s new club ended a season where his teams were champions at all the youth levels in Romania: A (U19), B (U17) and C (U15). A unique achievement in our country. Besides these three categories where the players are competing in full-sized games, there are also six other groups of kids of different ages involved in other regional or national minifootball competitions. In total, there are 300 youth players, from 6 to 18 years old, all of them training at the Academy Hagi built in the South East of Romania, in the county where he was born, on a ground that used to be a corn field.
In a league saturated with foreign players (164 in the 2015/16 season), FC Viitorul Constanta is one of the fewest teams that promotes Romanian players. Viitorul debuted in 2009 in the Third Division and by 2012 were already playing in the First Division, having the youngest team in the league, with an average age of 21.6. In the following two seasons, Viitorul fought to avoid relegation, but for Hagi it was very important to give young players a chance, to help them become better players. He could have easily bought foreign players and quickly have a team to challenge for the top but if he did this, how could his kids mature and where would have them played?
“The best investment I made after I left football was to do this academy, to invest in young people. I’ll be the happiest old man. I have 300 children, two legitimate ones. When you see the kids around you forget everything. I did an extraordinary thing at any risk, because the wealth of a man is not in the money, but in the profession, to know how to do something.”
Last season, Viitorul reached the play-off, but the lack of experience of the young squad showed and Hagi’s team managed to win only one game from twelve. Almost 10 years after Hagi was forced to resign from Steaua Bucharest, Viitorul learned from their mistakes and Hagi won the title, ending the season on level points with Steaua, but having better results in direct matches against Becali’s team. Something that nobody thought could be possible. Nobody apart from Hagi himself, of course. Gheorghe Popescu, the former FC Barcelona captain and Hagi’s best friend, told the press recently that he never imagined this success could be possible and that he told his pal he is crazy. But, Hagi knew what he was going to do and what happened this season is nothing but the result of a good smart plan, hard-work and ambition.
Hagi’s Academy is a unique project in România, as the former number 10 commented: “ We have built infrastructure, football pitches, we selected kids, we created an academy with a budget ten times bigger than any academy budget in Romania. We have a unitary concept we didn’t play one day in one formation and the next day in a different one. For 7 years, we played the same, this is how we have progressed. My project has three main ideas: time, youth and talent.”
Hagi didn’t find his place in a league where clubs sack managers after managers, where teams radically change their first eleven from season to season. He has built his own club from scratch and also has put himself in charge of the first team.
Gheorghe Hagi was the best football player this country has ever produced. With the gap between Romanian football and the rest almost impossible to bridge, Hagi seems to come to rescue us once again, this time not as a player but as a visionary manager. Sometimes, I come to wonder; what have the rest of us done to deserve a person such as Hagi in Romanian football?!