Eden Hazard: Chelsea's Man Showing Just Why He's World Class
One of the best things that resulted from Chelsea’s Champions League win in 2012, aside from myself and several thousand Chelsea fans spending a very passable weekend in Munich, was that the club managed to secure the signature of Eden Hazard. The Belgian had been looking to leave French club Lille for a new challenge, and eventually decided to join Chelsea in a £32m deal on the basis that they were Champions of Europe. It was a major coup for the West London club, as a number of big names had been chasing him.
The 23-year-old midfield maestro with the low centre of gravity and, let’s face it, a backside that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink would be proud of, didn’t take long to settle into the English game. In his opening league game for Chelsea, at Wigan Athletic, he played an inch perfect pass into the path of Branislav Ivanovic to open the scoring, then just minutes later won a penalty which was converted by Frank Lampard to give the Blues a 2-0 win. He followed this up with winning another penalty and providing two assists in the next game against Reading, before opening his Chelsea account three days later against Newcastle United.
Chelsea fans were already in love with him, and it seems there are few in the game who don’t have at least a degree of admiration for the diminutive Belgian genius, Swansea ball boys aside. He is one of those rare players who can turn a game on its head with a piece of deft skill or a burst of pace. Opposing full backs must have nightmares when they look back at a game where they’ve had to deal with his marauding runs. I’ve even seen him fool a TV cameraman who tried to track a ball that Hazard had feinted to play, only for it to remain firmly stuck to his foot.
With Lampard making fewer appearances this season as he comes towards the end of his career, Hazard has also taken on penalty duties. I’ve watched him closely, and his technique is incredible. He simply waits for the keeper to move, then rolls the ball the other way. If the keeper stands still, he passes it into the corner. It sounds simple, but it takes a huge amount of skill and composure to be able to wait till the last second as you run up to the ball. It’s hard to see him missing one, although no doubt he will at some point.
Hazard can play either as a wide man or an attacking midfielder behind the main striker, and is equally devastating in both roles. He has all the tricks and flicks, pace to burn and, having worked under Jose Mourinho this season, has added a real work ethic and steel to his game. He’s often seen tackling back, playing the ball out of defence then sprinting forward to work his magic at the other end of the field. He also plays with a smile on his face. I get the feeling he’s really enjoying his football right now.
Mourinho says of him: “Eden Hazard is probably the best young player in the world with legs to go there, but give him time.” I wouldn’t argue with this assessment. He has all the attributes to be one of the very best players in world football given the right environment, enough time and a little luck. Paris Saint-Germain have made mischief in suggesting they are keen on taking him back to France, but he and his young family seem settled in London, and he is playing in a competitive league. I hope he fulfils his clearly enormous potential at Chelsea, and at present see no reason why he won’t stay for a long time.
Watch out for him in the World Cup in Brazil this summer. The Belgian squad look a decent shout as a dark horse and I have a feeling Chelsea’s number 17 might be making some waves as he pits himself against the best players in the world.