The young Belgian star has been blossoming at Lille over the course of the last five years, but he is now primed to leap into the spotlight in England next season
Eden Hazard. The uniqueness of the name means it’s not easy to forget, but it also gives English speakers a wonderful image of the young Belgian attacker who is set to become a world-class talent over the next decade.
Eden is a biblical place of great natural beauty and wonder; Hazard, on the other hand, implies danger and risk. These qualities are both evident in the 21-year-old’s play, and they have made him arguably the most-feared attacking player in France over the course of the last two campaigns.
In style, the Lille star has often been likened to Barcelona’s Lionel Messi – a lofty comparison, for sure, but those who have seen him terrorise Ligue 1 defences would doubtless agree that the same direct running style is in evidence, even if it’s unlikely that the Belgium international will quite touch the heights of the Argentine.
From the start of his career in Ligue 1 as a confident 16-year-old playing a cameo from the bench against Nancy in 2007, he displayed a willingness to commit defenders, to beat them with his pace and skill, and to grow into a true matchwinner.
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D.O.B: January 7, 1991
Lille has been the perfect schoolyard for Hazard - who signed for the club in 2005 as a 14-year-old from Belgian outfit Tubize - while head coach Rudi Garcia has proven to be the perfect teacher. Garcia joined les Dogues in the summer of 2008, and his attacking, free-flowing philosophy, of which Joe Cole has spoken so highly, has been ideal for bringing the best from Hazard.
Initially the young star was used carefully, even once his talent became recognised. Frequently kicked and bruised by opposing defenders, the risk of injury was significant - particularly when a gruelling schedule threatened to hinder the progress of his developing body. So it was only last term that Hazard established himself as a certain starter in every match.
|A MAN IN DEMAND|
|UK correspondent Greg Stobart: |
All of the ‘big six’ Premier League clubs have been paying close attention to Hazard in the last couple of years - and that has only ramped up since the winger expressed his desire to play in England next season.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Roberto Mancini and Harry Redknapp have all been spotted in the stands at Lille games in the last couple of months and it appears the two Manchester clubs and Tottenham are showing the strongest interest in the summer move.
Spurs understand they face a battle to land one of the hottest properties in European football but the Londoners believe they are favourites to win the race. Hazard has spoken in glowing terms about the Premier League’s third-placed club, who came close to agreeing a deal to sign him in the final week of the January transfer window.
Reports have correctly identified White Hart Lane as Hazard’s preferred destination at this moment in time as the player is believed to want to join a club where he will be guaranteed a regular starting place. Champions League football will also be a pre-requisite.
City and United can offer far bigger wages but Hazard is wary of falling into the same trap as some of his Belgium team-mates, who have moved to big clubs and are struggling to get in the side.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is also a huge admirer of Hazard, but his attention seems to be focussed on German duo Lukas Podolski and Mario Goetze.
It was 2011-12 when Hazard truly grew to be a man, though. Along with Gervinho, who would later sign for Arsenal, he was the star of the Lille side that picked up their first Ligue 1 title in nearly 60 years and also claimed the Coupe de France to complete a first domestic double since 1946.
Although Gervinho recorded superior statistics in terms of goals and assists to Hazard, it was the Belgian who was seen as the leading light of the team, and was named Player of the Year for the first time.
Rumours of interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs had long been circulating by this stage, and although he would reject these approaches to develop his game further in northern France, interest soon resurfaced after he started this campaign so spectacularly, thriving after the departure of Gervinho and establishing himself even further as the team’s figurehead.
“Hazard has shown since the start of the season that he’s ready to play at a big club,” long-time admirer Zinedine Zidane told Marca. “He has matured in many aspects, and it is clear he must continue to progress without cutting corners.”
Perhaps the aspect of his game that has most improved is his composure in front of goal. An attacker who quickly picked up the art of playing a killer pass, there were times in his formative years in which he appeared panicked in front of goal.
There have been no such problems in recent times as he’s raced to 12 goals this season - already matching his total from the previous two campaigns. Indeed, another four strikes this term would double his career total of goals.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the likes of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini have personally travelled over to France in recent weeks to track the player’s progress.
Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea have also been credited with an interest in a player who has scored three times in his last three matches for Lille.
Hazard has admitted to La Voix du Nord that Manchester United “excite” him, having previously told Canal+ in January that he will leave in the summer “to England”.
Despite these comments, there are a myriad of options open to the attacker, and with such a queue of suitors, the tale of his transfer is set to be lengthy this summer as the Premier League’s titans scramble for a player they hope to develop into their own Messi.