Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans. Teddy Cutler meets a player of limitless ambition

“I want to achieve perfection,” says Eden Hazard, rocking back in his chair with a boyish half-smile.

It would be an astonishing way to kick the conversation off, had the statement come from the mouth of an average Premier League footballer. Yet in relation to Hazard, the hubris and ambition are somehow forgivable and realistic.

The Belgian wunderkind is good enough to have been named Young Player of the Year in France aged just 17, and bordering on great enough to have repeated that feat in the Premier League last season, scoring 17 goals overall.

Hazard’s potential greatness is what has brought us here, to a monolithic Surrey leisure centre. Last season was Hazard’s coming-out party; the year when he partially uncloaked himself as a world-class star. This time around, the expectations have been ramped up. The 23-year-old must, along with the likes of Diego Costa, share the brunt of Chelsea’s attack. Hazard admits he is not yet at the level of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

Yet talking to Hazard, you get the distinct feeling that behind the lofty, self-imposed ambitions, he is not entirely comfortable with the level of hype that now surrounds him wherever he goes. For starters, he is quick to dismiss any suggestion that he might be approaching the stratospheric levels of performance of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

“I am not better than them this year,” says Hazard, who was being unveiled as the new pack star of FIFA 15. “They are here and I am still here,” holding out both hands to illustrate his point.

Hazard’s gesture was borne out on the pitch at the World Cup in Brazil this summer. While Messi dragged Argentina almost single-handedly to the final against Germany, Hazard cut a subdued figure as part of a Belgium side overburdened with individual talent that collectively underachieved in bowing out in the quarter-finals. Not that the player sees the tournament in quite such negative terms.

“[The World Cup] could have gone better for me,” he admits. “I did two good games but it wasn’t enough. We tried everything but sometimes you make one mistake and that is it.”

Hazard made mistakes for Chelsea last season, most notably during the Champions League semi-final second leg against Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge – a performance that earned a strong rebuke from his manager. The Belgian also admitted he should have had a better World Cup

“He [Hazard] is not the kind of player to sacrifice himself for the team,” said Jose Mourinho after the 3-1 loss that tipped Chelsea out of Europe. “He’s not mentally ready to look to his left-back and leave his life for him.”

Perhaps the stinging nature of those comments explains Hazard’s reticence to compare himself with the best in the world. Working under Mourinho is a constant tightrope walk between aiming for the stars while keeping one’s ego firmly tied to terra firma.

“It is a pleasure to play under Mourinho,” Hazard insists. Then he offers a note of warning: “It is important to show respect. Sometimes when you lose one game he is sad and he shows other people. You mustn’t smile when you lose, you have to be sad like other people. You have to win every game.”

Mourinho’s brutally effective version of winning involves his attacking players displaying defensive responsibility – a lesson Hazard says he is still getting used to.

“I learn with Mourinho every day to improve defensively and I try to give the best for the team. I know my job is to score and to make assists, but if I can help the team, it’s a pleasure,” he says, with that half-smile again suggesting that perhaps the transition has not always been quite as smooth as he makes out.

There is one area of the pitch that Hazard will not be expected to occupy this season. “I am a left or right-winger,” he says. “I think that football now is finished with the No 10.” Mourinho has become visibly exasperated during pre-season Hazard is still getting used to Jose Mourinho's defensive mentality

Following Juan Mata’s departure to Manchester United last January, Hazard claimed Chelsea’s No 10 shirt for himself – “because my idol Zidane was No 10”. It is an odd paradox made more confusing by Hazard’s assertion that the No 10 shirt is “just one number”.

He is right – shirt numbers have long ceased to define a player’s role on the pitch. Hazard wore 17 in his first season and a half at Chelsea, yet played in the same position on the left as he is likely to today when Chelsea host Leicester City.

The impetuousness that marks Hazard’s speech is also what makes him stand out on the pitch. It was in evidence at Turf Moor on Monday, as Chelsea recovered from a goal deficit to beat Burnley 3-1. The new signing Cesc Fabregas took the limelight – “He did very well,” says Hazard – but the characteristic jinking runs and teasing feet were very much in evidence.

It  was not the perfection Hazard is seeking. But, at 23, perhaps footballing nirvana is not so very far away for Chelsea’s boy who would be king. Eden Hazard has been named cover star for FIFA 15 in the UK Eden Hazard has been named cover star for FIFA 15 in the UK

Eden Hazard was speaking as the Chelsea star was being unveiled as the pack star of EA SPORTS FIFA 15. Available for pre-order now at easports.com/uk/fifa/buy

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine