THE prospect of playing against Celtic for the very first time is an enticing one for Ianis Hagi.

Hagi was denied the opportunity to face the Parkhead club during his brief loan spell at Rangers last season when football was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak just two days before a Premiership match at Ibrox in March.

So being involved in the Old Firm fixture is one of the many things the Romanian playmaker, who made his move to Scotland permanent last month when he completed a £3m transfer from Belgian club Genk, is excited about ahead of the 2020/21 campaign.

“I really looked forward to playing that game, but unfortunately it didn’t happen,” he said.

“Obviously, I was thinking about that and thinking about the moment when we will play Celtic. It is one of the greatest derbies in the world so who doesn’t want to play in such a game?”

The 21-year-old, though, would much rather he made his bow against Rangers’ city rivals in front of a sell-out crowd than behind closed doors.

Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, has suggested the first game, which is set to be played at Celtic Park, should be pushed back by the SPFL so that fans can attend.

Steven Gerrard, his Rangers counterpart who oversaw a convincing 2-1 victory in the East End of Glasgow back at the end of December, has admitted the encounter would lack its usual intensity and atmosphere if it went ahead when social distancing restrictions were in place.

His summer signing agrees. “I would go full house, definitely,” he said. “Everybody wants to play with fans. That’s the reason I play, I just play to bring joy to the fans. Obviously the adrenaline and the intensity of the game is different when you have fans in the stands.”

But Hagi has enjoyed being back at training at Auchenhowie in the past fortnight – even if social distancing restrictions have been in place and contact has not been allowed – and knows that playing competitive fixtures inside empty grounds is better than not playing at all.

“It is different, but, as a professional footballer, you just have to adapt to the situation and delivery in every single game, whether there are fans or not,” he said. “Obviously, we would prefer if the stadiums were full, but it is what it is and we just need to adapt.

“We are professional footballers, it doesn’t really what situation or challenge we are facing. We just need to go out there and deliver. That is my opinion.

“I am just thinking about what we need to do in pre-season, keep fit and be 100 per cent fit, mentally and physically, when the league starts. I just focus on our game and how we can do better as a team and how every single player can improve.”

Hagi made quite an impact at Rangers last season - he scored a late winner in a Premiership game against Hibernian and netted two goals in an epic Europa League comeback against Braga.

But he is hopeful there is much more to come from him next term. He is sure he will benefit from having a full pre-season, albeit a highly irregular one, under his belt.

He helped his national team reach the semi-finals of the European Under-21 Championship in Italy last June and struggled to find his best form when he returned to action with Genk.

“It is a totally different experience because of the Euros last year,” he said. “It seems much different, but it will be much, much better starting the season from day one.  It just depends on each player and their desire to work hard.

“I am still young and at the beginning of my career and I have a lot of things to learn. I still have some weaknesses I work on. I feel you become a major player or reach your peak at around 32 and until then I have a lot of hard work to do. I am focused on improving every single day.”

“It helped me a lot to have the first couple of months to introduce myself to a new league. I know what to expect now and that will definitely be an advantage for me. But that doesn’t mean it will be much easier. I just have to do my job as a No.10. If I focus on my own game that will be more than enough.”

Hagi admitted he is looking forward to playing with Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos once again when the new season gets underway, all being well, in August. “He is a striker who can score 30 goals a season and obviously it is really great to play alongside him.”

But the son of football great Gheorghe is confident he can develop at Ibrox thanks to the standard of every one the players he will be training and playing with.  

“All the team-mates here are really good,” he said. “It is a quality team that can produce and create in every game.

“It just makes you a better player, it makes you improve and makes you push yourself to the limit. Whenever you have a team-mate with that quality, obviously you can grow a lot as an individual player.”