In 1998, after a defeat in a friendly against Paraguay, Hagi was on centre-stage of a press conference that became very famous over the years. Frustrated with the press jumping to conclusions after the defeat in question, Hagi unleashed himself warning the journalists that their expectations were too big.
"You got used too bad for 10 years. Let's speak the truth. For 10 years we made you get used to this, with the conditions in Romania today. We have nothing! No football," Hagi said angrily. "We deserve statues. For what we made for 10 years, and what conditions we have in Romania, you should make us statues!"
Romania's national team was going through a very good period of results. After reaching the last 16 in the 1990 World Cup, 1994 brought the team's best result of an international tournament, only penalties denying Romania a place in the semi-finals. After that, in France 1998, Romania's national team managed to reach the knock-out stages of the World Cup again, this time Croatia stopping it in the last 16.
In our days, these results stand out as legendary. Not even the most optimistic supporter on the face of the Earth can't think of these kind of results in the near future. After participating in the 2000 European Championship, Romania started to look like a shadow of the team of the 90's. The failure to qualify for the 2002 World Cup after the defeat suffered against Slovenia in the play-off's practically put an end to the glory period of Romania's football that accompanied the last 25 years.
Qualification to Euro 2008 was a welcome change, but the team's performances at that tournament didn't make an impression. The inability to handle pressure of a whole generation of players was on show. The boots they had to fill were too big, a fact that could be seen over and over again. Dubbed "The new Hagi", Adrian Mutu didn't manage to pull the squad up on his own. Although he had plenty of talent and was a good player, his personality ultimately failed him, his off-field lifestyle leading him into many problems that saw his career stand still.
A combination of experienced players and youngsters was selected by Victor Pițurcă for the qualifying campaign of 2012-2013. After clinging on to second place in a group featuring the likes of Holland and Turkey, Romania had a brilliant chance to qualify to the World Cup once again. In Greece, it had an opponent with no real value, but an ambitious team that knows how to maximize its potential from their individual player's skills, while being very tightly knitted together.
Unfortunately, the unavoidable happened, Romania's opponents proving too strong for Pițurcă's old methodology and the value of his players. The play-off defeat is another painful reminder that "this is what we can achieve", the Turks undoubtedly questioning how come they only played a friendly against Belarus instead of playing for qualification for the World Cup.
The problems of Romanian football are many and can be seen throughout. You can hardly find a similar institution in another country that is as ill as ours. Beginning with the high-level decisions, continuing with the manager's controversial preferences in terms of squad selection and finishing with the lack of value of our players, Romanian football is suffering, and the situation doesn't look like it's going to get better soon. The implication of politics in football is looking ever more present as well, as we have seen in the last week.
"Romanian football is going down. Down, I tell you. Zero. In two-three years it's going to be zero," Hagi warned, making gestures with his hands as if all that he loved most was going to turn to dust. Unfortunately, he was right. Not only that the situation has reached that level, but all signs point to Romanian football soon reaching negative values.