Chelsea’s trio of young attacking players, Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard are forging a devastatingly lethal understanding at the Blues, all three of them capable of defence-splitting balls, mesmerisingly mazey dribbling and quick interchanges of movement and passing. Eden Hazard, the young Belgian, is the focus of this article, acquired from French club Lille as one of the most hyped young players in recent British transfer history. Is he living up to the hype? Is he ever.
Eden Hazard was born in La Louviere, Belgium, on January 7 1991. He began his footballing career in Belgium playing for Royal Stade Brainois at a young age, spending 8 years at the club. One of his youth coaches described him as a “gifted” player, and said “He knew everything. I had nothing to teach him.”
Hazard went on to play for the Tubize youth team before his move to Lille in 2005. While playing for Tubize in a local tournament, he was spotted by one of Lille’s scouts. The scout’s report prompted Lille to meet with Hazard’s father and offer Eden a youth contract. Eden’s parents accepted Lille’s offer, and later accepted the offer for Eden’s younger brother Thorgan, due to France having better youth facilities than Belgium.
Afterwards Hazard’s father stated “They remained so close to home and, at the same time, they integrated at structures where they could grow, because in Belgium, unfortunately, it’s a little empty for the training of youth.” Hazard spent two years at the club’s local sports school, and signed his first professional contract on May 28th 2007, agreeing to a three year deal. Shortly afterwards, Hazard was promoted to Lille’s reserve team, playing in the fourth tier of French football. He also continued to play for Lille’s under-18 team.
Due to players being on international duty, Hazard was called up to the senior squad, by then manager Claude Puel, to play in a friendly match against Belgian team Bruges on November 16th. He came on as a substitute and played well, earning him a place in the team in a league match against Nancy on November 26th. Hazard would come on as a substitute in the match, making his professional league debut. However, he returned to the club’s reserve team, spending December playing with them.
After the winter break in France, he returned to the first team, making substitute appearances against Sochaux, Metz, and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). After the PSG game, he returned to the reserve team in the fourth division, and continued with the under-18 team in the Coupe Gambardella. In 2008, Hazard scored his final amateur goal against Vitre, in a 3-2 victory. He finished his amateur career, helping the team finish fifth place.
At the start of 2008/09 season, Hazard was called up to the senior squad, and was given the number 26. This would be his debut season in the club’s first-team after being permanently promoted by new manager Rudi Garcia. He made several substitute appearances, and against Auxerre, scored his first career goal for the first team, resulting in him becoming the youngest goalscorer in Lille’s history.
A few days later, Hazard would make his first start against Motpellier in the Coupe de la Ligue (League Cup), in a match that saw Lille beaten 4-2 on penalties. Hazard made his league start in a 3-0 victory against Saint-Etienne, scoring the opening goal. His performances throughout the first-half of the season, earned him a three year contract extension, which tied him to the club until 2012. Hazard went on to score a match-winning goals against Sochaux in the league, and also scored in the Coupe de France against defending champions Lyon in a 3-2 win. In the last ten matches of the season, Hazard started eight of them, contrbuting to the team finishing fifth, which resulted in Lille qualifying for the UEFA Europa League. After the season, Hazard was awarded the National Union of Professional Footballers (UNFP) Youth Player of the Year, becoming the first player outside of France to achieve the award.
Following the 08/09 season, Hazard attracted attention from a lot of clubs, including Italian team Inter Milan, English clubs Arsenal, Manchester United, and Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, with French Legend, and Real Madrid Director of Football, Zinedine Zidane personally recommending him to Real Madrid. Zidane stated “Eden is technically gifted and very fast. He will be a major star in the future. I would take him to Real Madrid with my eyes closed.”
At the start of the 2009/10 season, Hazard would go on to impress for Lille, staring in their UEFA Europa League campaign, and scoring in both qualifying rounds, helping the team reach the group stages. It wasn’t until December that Hazard scored his first goal of the season in the league against Le Mans in a 3-0 win, also providing assists on the other two goals. Hazard went on to scored in the derby match against rivals Lens, in a win that helped Lille stay in position for a UEFA Champions League place.
A few days later, Hazard accepted a contract extension, which would keep the player at the club until 2014. On March, Hazard scored the winner in a 1-0 victory against Liverpool in the first leg of the club’s Europa League tie. For his impressive performances during the league in the month of March, Hazard was award the UNFP Player of the Month. A month later, Hazard was nominated for the UNFP Ligue 1 Player of the Year, and also for the Young Player of the Year award, for the second season in a row. He lost out on the Ligue 1 Player of the Year, but went on to be awarded the Young Player of the Year, for a second consecutive season, becoming the first player to win the award twice.
In the 2010/11, Hazard’s performances dropped, and he was benched by Lille manager Garcia in an effort to “allow him to breathe and learn that his performances were insufficient.” Hazard went on to appear as a substitute in the next few matches, and stated “The first two months were a bit touch. I wouldn’t say that I began doubting my abilities, but I definitely went through a really patchy spell.” In October, Belgium national team manager Georges Leekens said that the player “needed to work harder, both physically and mentally, to regain his past year’s form.” Belgium’s assistant coach also criticized Hazard, stating that he “often displayed a lazy mentality while training with the national team.” The Lille manager would respond to these comments, stating that they were “excessive”, and that “Eden is only 19 years old and can still make more progress in all areas.”
Following the international break, Hazard scored for Lille in a 4-1 victory against Caen in the Coupe de la Ligue. Ten days later, he scored against Brest in the league, recapturing his form. Hazard went on to play a part in both goals in a 2-1 in against Monaco, which continuted the club’s unbeaten streak, leaving Lille top of the table on December. On March 2011, Hazard’s performances had earned him a new contract, which now tied him to the club until 2015, and made him the highest paid player in the French League (Ligue 1).
In March, he would pick up the UNFP Player of the Month for the second time in his career. On April, Hazard made his 100th league appearnce for Lille, scoring in a 3-1 victory over Caen. Hazard scored in the semi-final victory against Nice in the Coupe de France, helping take Lille into the Final against PSG. A few days later, Hazard was nominated for the UNFP Lighe 1 Player of the Year for the second consective season. In the final of the Coupe de France, Hazard played 89 minutes, as Lille defeated PSG 1-0, at France’s national stadium, Stade de France.
A week later, Lille drew 2-2 with PSG, winning the Ligue 1 title for the first time since the 1953/54 season, and the club won their first double since the 1945/46 season. The day after Lille won the league, Hazard was awarded the UNFP Ligue 1 Player of the Year, becoming the younger ever player to win the award.
At the start of the 2011/12 season, Hazard was awarded the number 10 shirt. He made his UEFA Champions League debut against Russian side CSKA Mosow in a 2-2 draw. After going two months without scoring, Hazard came on as a substitute, scoring the match-winning goal, converting a penalty, which was described as a “Antonin Panenka-style chipped penalty.” Days later, he was nominated for the UEFA Team of the Year for 2011. In Lille’s final match before the winter break, Hazard scored in a 4-4 draw against Nice. After scoring, Hazard celebrated by paying tribute to Molami Bokoto, a former Lille academy player who had died a day before.
After going a few games without scoring, he scored twice in a 2-2 draw with Auxerre, which brought his goal total for the season to 13, which was his personal best. On April, Hazard made his 100 consecutive Ligue 1 appearance, which is currently the longest run in the French top flight. For the third season in a row, Hazard was nominating for UNFP Player of the Year award, and picked the award up two weeks later, becoming the second player to ever capture the award in consecutive seasons. In what would be his final match for Lille, Hazard would score his first hat-trick in a 4-1 win against Nancy. He made 147 appearances for Lille, scoring 36 goals.
On May 2012, Hazard tweeted that he would be joining newly crowned UEFA Champions League winners, Chelsea, by stating “I’m signing for the Champion’s League winners.” On June, Chelsea confirmed the signing on their club website. The transfer fee was undisclosed, but is rumored to be 32 million Euros. Arriving at Chelsea, Hazard spoke to the website saying “I’m delighted to finally arrive here. It’s a wonderful club and I can’t wait to get started.”
Hazard was given the number 17 shirt, which was vacated by Jose Bosingwa. He made his debut for Chelsea in the 2012 FA Community Shield against Manchester City. A week later, he played his first match in the league against Wigan, assisting with a goal, and winning his side a penalty in a 2-0 win. Hazard’s first goal for Chelsea came against Newcastle, scoring a penalty in a 2-0 win. He made his Champions League debut for Chelsea, in the opening group stage match against Juventus.
In January, Hazard scored a long range goal in a 4-0 win against Stoke. He was sent off in a League Cup semi-final against Swansea for trying get the ball out from under a ball boy, who was lying on it in order to deliberately waste time. Chelsea lost the tie 2-0, and were eliminated from the League Cup. on March, Hazard won the Man of the Match, in a 2-0 victory against West Ham, assisting Frank Lampard’s 200th Chelsea goal, and scoring himself. Chelsea legend Lampard has stated “I’ve said to him he has got absolutely everything. He’s only 22, he has the world at his feet and with the way he’s playing and the ability he has on the ball, he is scaring the life out of people.”
Hazard has featured for Belgium since 2006, in the Belgium Under-15’s and 16’s. He’s also featured for Belgium Under-17’s and 19’s, but was quickly promoted to the Belgium national side, and has earned 36 caps, scoring 5 goals. He is known for his speed and technical ability, and has been described as a “fearless, explosive attacking midfielder.” He’s been compared to the two best players in the world, Messi and Ronaldo, due to his unique playing style.
The future is bright for Hazard, and at the young age of 22, he can only get better.
Article by Alan Murphy