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Ianis Hagi tipped for Rangers 'total success' as Kilmarnock hero gives lowdown on Belgium struggles

The 21-year-old put pen to paper on a three-year deal this week.


Belgian striker Dieter van Tornhout wrote himself into Kilmarnock folklore when he left Celtic spinning to deny them silverware.

Now he’s backing Ianis Hagi to become a legend at Rangers by doing the same as Steven Gerrard’s side bid to topple the Hoops from the summit of
Scottish football.

Hagi, 21, sealed his £3million switch to Ibrox earlier this week after his half season loan from Genk was made permanent with a three year contract.

Tornhout, assistant boss of Jupiler League rivals KV Mechelen, looked on in the first half of the last campaign as Hagi struggled to justify his £7.5m move from Viitorul Constanta.

He reckoned circumstances conspired against the Romanian international after boss Phillipe Clement left the Belgian champs in the close season to join Brugge.

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He was followed by several big name players as new gaffer Felice Mazzu struggled to impact, axed in November after a woeful Champions League campaign.

Hagi never nailed down a regular first team spot at the club, but Van Tornhout is backing him to make a name for himself, just as he did for Killie in the League Cup in 2012 when he became the last player to score a winning goal against Celtic in a Hampden final.

Van Tornhout said: “I became a hero for Kilmarnock and Hagi could do the same for Rangers because football is a game in which everything can change in a second.
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“Can you imagine the final game of next season is an Old Firm derby at Parkhead, with Rangers and Celtic level on points at the top of the table, and Hagi scored a last-minute winner from a

“He would become a legend forever at Rangers and why couldn’t it happen? Football provides the opportunity for every player in any team to become a hero. I believe Hagi will be a total success with Rangers.”

One of Hagi’s first games for Genk, last August, was a 3-1 defeat at Mechelen.

Van Tornhout’s side finished sixth when the Belgian league was called last month, one place above the fallen champions on goal difference.

The playmaker struggled to make an impact at his new club and started only once in their Champions League group stage campaign, a 0-0 draw at home to Napoli.
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It was the only point they picked up in Europe as they finished bottom of their group and suffered heavy defeats against the Italians, Salzburg and Liverpool.

Genk also won only five of their first 10 league games and Van Tornhout said: “Hagi arrived at Genk as a big money transfer and with a big name.

“Everyone was watching and there was great pressure on the club as they had won the title the season before and qualified for the Champions League.

“However, they didn’t begin so well and the coach began to change tactics to find a response and Hagi, who hadn’t started many games, found it difficult to get back into the side.

“Neither he nor the team were in a good place. It might have been so different, for example, if they had won their first three games of the season but they didn’t and there was so much pressure on him at only 20.
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“He had come from a team in Romania where he was the big star and everything went through him but he was the new kid at Genk and had to show himself all over again.

“However, if it isn’t working out for you as a player you can’t feel well in your own skin and the total package at Genk at that time conspired against him.

“They had changed coach when Clement went to Brugge and they also lost a couple of key players, including the Ukrainian midfielder Ruslan Malinovski, who went to Atalanta.

“But don’t doubt Hagi’s skill level. He’s got incredible feet – I would defy anyone to say if he prefers his left foot or his right.
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“He’s still young and I know he already made an impact at Rangers in the couple of months he was there. He’ll continue to do well for Steven Gerrard.”

Hagi turned down several suitors from around Europe, including Lazio, as Rangers took up their option to sign a player who almost paid for his transfer with his Europa League double against Braga alone.

Van Tornhout played only six months with Kilmarnock, to his professional regret, but his father and then mother quickly passed away after the highs of his Hampden cup final appearance and he put family first.

He said: “Hagi is not the most physical player and Scotland is a tough league, but he’ll still make a difference to Rangers with his passing ability and technical skill.

“Many teams play very low against Rangers and Celtic, and that is their right, but Hagi is a guy who can play a ball behind defensive lines for strikers or contribute himself by drawing fouls and scoring from set pieces.

“It’s no surprise he committed to Rangers, even above teams from Italy. There is no comparison, really.

“The atmosphere at venues like Ibrox is unique with 50,000 fans every week. Perhaps he also knows it’s only a small step from Scotland to the Premier League.”

Van Tornhout is preparing for the re-start of the Belgian season but Kilmarnock will never be far from his thoughts.

He said: “I hope to return one day as manager. I’ve just completed my Pro Licence. If they’re ever looking for someone, I hope they give me a call.”