Eden Hazard: Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United in race to sign a potential global superstar

France's Player of the Year is set to join a Premier League club this summer – but is enjoying taking his time choosing which one

Nothing had been riding on Lille's final game of the season on Sunday against Nancy, with Champions League qualification already sealed but a chance of retaining the Ligue 1 title out of reach. Still, journalists squeezed into the modest press conference room at their (soon-to-be-former) home, Stade Villeneuve d'Ascq, to hear the definitive final word, with Eden Hazard expected to finally detail which Premier League club he would be joining.

"I haven't made my choice yet," he shrugged. It wasn't just a moment of anti-climax for those waiting on tenterhooks, but a rare sign of wavering from this most self-confident of young men. While Hazard has teased possible suitors – and the public – in recent months, he has always exuded a strong sense of assurance.

His curtain call against Nancy, the same side he made his professional debut against in November 2007 at the age of 16, showed exactly why England's finest are jockeying for position in the race to sign him. Hazard fired a first-half hat-trick, taking him up to 20 league goals for the season, one short of the French top division's top scorers, Montpellier's Olivier Giroud and Nenê of Paris Saint-Germain. The Lille No 10 was alone at the summit of the assist table, with 15.

This season Hazard has demonstrated what all the fuss is about and his projected €40m (£32.3m) move would make him the most lucrative ever player sale from Ligue 1, topping the £26.2m Chelsea paid for Michael Essien in 2005. Ten days ago, his peers voted him Player of the Year for the second successive season, following on from his Young Player of the Year titles in 2009 and 2010.

Hazard's rise is down to a number of factors: the confidence gleaned from Lille's league and cup Double last year; the move from wide left to a more central position in the second half of the campaign, and even the boost of a kindred spirit arriving in the on-loan Joe Cole, with whom the Belgian enjoys considerable creative synergy.

It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that Cole's experience and class has made the idea of thriving in England a more attractive prospect to Hazard. The admiration is certainly mutual. "I don't want to keep putting pressure on him," Cole told me just before Christmas. "But he seems like the sort of character who can deal with it all. He's just a fantastic talent. He can go on and become one of the best players in the world."

At just 21, Hazard has manipulated the prospect of his impending transfer like a seasoned pro. During the first four months of 2012, he's given all the Premier League's leading lights encouragement. As a special guest on the panel of the television programme Canal Football Club at the end of January, he gave a clear and controlled performance under some typically direct questioning from host Hervé Mathoux.

Just before the closure of the winter transfer window, Hazard firmly declared it was absolutely impossible that he would leave before summer, but that he had taken the decision to go to England at the end of the campaign. Neglecting to name a preferred club, he praised the qualities of all the Premier League's leading lights in turn.

"I bet it's Chelsea," Canal Plus's leading pundit, Christophe Dugarry, suggested towards the end of the segment. "Well, you're free to bet as you want," Hazard smirked back, before unwittingly stoking further rumours of a move to Stamford Bridge among English fans by tweeting: "What did you think about me on CFC?" (using the acronym to describe the show, not the English club) on the way home from the studio.

Such poise may be a surprising quality in a relative stripling, but Hazard is the product of his environment. He is the oldest of four brothers. Thorgan, 19, is attracting interest from Italy and Portugal after just six starts for Lille's second-tier neighbours, Lens. Kylian joined his big brother at Lille last summer, signing up for the academy when he turned 16. Seven-year-old Ethan has just started on the same path. Like Eden, he has joined the youth ranks at AFC Tubize, a second-tier club based 15 minutes' drive from the Hazard family home in the small Belgian town of Braine-le-Comte, 30 miles from the French border.

The boys are of good footballing stock; father Thierry was a semi-professional in the Belgian Second Division, while mother Carine was an accomplished centre-forward in Belgium's top flight before quitting at 26, when she became pregnant with her eldest son. "Eden was scoring goals before he was born thanks to me," she told Le Parisien last year.

The next generation has already begun to emerge, with Hazard becoming a father to a baby boy in December 2010. Yet if he is lauded for his maturity in France, the Belgium national side has yet to see him at his best. Hazard's international career has been a slow burner, and he has scored just once in 26 matches for his country.

 

A testy relationship with then-coach Georges Leekens came to a head last summer, when Hazard was substituted after an hour of the Euro 2012 qualifier against Turkey in Brussels. A photographer later snapped Hazard eating a hamburger with his father outside the Stade Roi Baudouin while the game was still going on. He apologised, but Leekens suspended him for three games in August, before relenting later in the month.

Even though he identifies himself as an Anderlecht fan, there is a sense that there is a certain disconnect between Hazard and his home nation: much as with Lionel Messi, it seems an inevitable consequence of the vast majority of his football education unfolding abroad. After being spotted by Lille scouts at Tubize, he moved to France at 14 to join the academy. Leekens' replacement, Marc Wilmots, once suggested French observers are "blinded by Eden's moments of magic."

Hazard's talent has certainly infuriated opponents in the past. "Even though they were already winning 3-0," Nancy defender André Luiz complained after a game last January, "he [Hazard] was taking the piss out of us with the ball, waiting for an opponent after having dribbled past him so he could dribble past him again. Even his team-mates thought it was over the top."

Any perceived annoyance at Hazard's star status within Lille's corridors appears vastly exaggerated. When coach Rudi Garcia substituted Hazard a few minutes from the end of Sunday's match to allow him a prolonged ovation, each one of his team-mates ran across to individually embrace him.

It wasn't just an indication of how honoured the Lille squad feels to have watched Hazard grow, but also of how much they appreciate his work ethic. He is no shallow egotist. "Is this my best season?" he pondered last week. "Stats-wise, yes. But last season, there was the Double, and this, nothing." His voice trailed away, losing interest. Hazard wants to shine individually, and be well paid while doing it, but he also wants to win things – which is exactly why Chelsea are back in the running following their Champions League triumph.

Hazard: Young duke

Born 7 January 1991, La Louvière, Belgium

Club career

2007- Lille (192 games, 50 goals)

International career

26 caps for Belgium, one goal.

Debut v Luxembourg, Nov 2008

Honours

Ligue 1 2010-11, French Cup 2010-11

Individual honours

Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year: 2008-09, 2009-10

Ligue 1 Player of the Year: 2010-11, 2011-12

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
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

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker