Hazard can hit great heights at Chelsea under ‘father’ Mourinho
When Chelsea, Coral’s joint third favourites to win the Champions League this season, came from nowhere to sign Eden Hazard, it was a statement.
It said: “we are back, and we’re here to stay”. Having just won Europe’s elite club competition, stunning underdogs Bayern Munich in the 2012 final on their own backyard with an albeit lightweight squad, Roman Abramovich and his power-brokers identified targets to take them to the next level.
With both Manchester clubs, plus Arsenal and a number of top European teams circling, the player was intent on a move to the Premier League. There was an element of mystery when Hazard later revealed on Twitter he had signed a contract with his new club which led to a flurry of speculation. Chelsea appeared from nowhere and announced they had signed the then 21-year-old for £32m.
Quite a statement, and the spending didn’t stop there. In came Brazilian talent Oscar for £25m from Internacional, and to continue the trend transition, Abramovich insisted on buying young flair players, Victor Moses, Marko Marin, and Cesar Azpilicueta followed for a combined £23m. Not content with just one Hazard, Chelsea also brought in Eden’s younger brother Thorgan for an undisclosed fee.
Hazard’s impact was immediate, though was perhaps over-played in his first season, as he adjusted to the exhaustive demands of the Premier League, and life in west London. Two years later, he is playing in one of the most-talented, and perhaps complete squads in Europe under one of the continent’s chief coaches.
Special players need special managers. Jose Mourinho and Hazard go hand-in-hand and, in the Belgian, the hugely successful Portuguese boss has found his next protege, having taken Cristiano Ronaldo to the next level at Real Madrid.
Of Hazard, Mourinho has plenty to say: “I think Eden is out of context at this moment. Why? Because he’s a fantastic kid. He is humble, very humble. Very nice. Very polite. Selfish – zero. Egocentric – zero. He is fantastic.
“I had a conversation with his father. His father told me something that I loved. I don’t think it’s a problem to tell you. He said – ‘I have a wonderful son. He is a wonderful father. He is a wonderful husband. I want him to change, because I want him to be a wonderful player. But I don’t want him to change a lot. I don’t want him to become – and he used the name of two or three players. I just want him to be the same husband, the same father, the same son, with a little but more tenacity, mental aggression, ambition, personal ego. A little bit more. And you are the guy to give it to him.’
“We can never transform these fantastic players and men into a competitive animal, a competitive machine. Not even his father wants [that]. We have just to bring him to a different level, working hard in training, which he’s doing.”
When asked whether he thinks Hazard is responding to that message, Mourinho was resolutely conclusive in his answer.
“Yes, yes, yes. He’s never afraid to play and take responsibility. But it’s not about that. It’s about him saying – today, I have to be decisive. What he says in that press interview, when he says ‘I’m not one of the five top players in the world’ – he can be, but he cannot be in a match where he doesn’t do something in the 90 minutes that makes him decisive.
Speaking about the Arsenal match at Stamford Bridge, a game in which summer signing Diego Costa notched, and fellow new recruit Cesc Fabregas came back to haunt his former club with a delightful assist for the striker, Mourinho impressed upon Hazard to be a game-changer, and not just focus on footballing aesthetics. It seemed the protege heeded his mentors’ advice. His mazy, direct run into the area bamboozled Arsenal defenders, and Laurent Koscielny fouled him for a penalty that he subsequently converted.
“The week before against Arsenal, I was on him every day – be decisive. Don’t be happy with doing nice things. Don’t be happy being up and down in the game. You have to do something in the game that wins the game for us. And he did. This is the point with Eden. The talent is amazing, and the human side of him – especially in the modern days, because I work with top players for 30 years – he is not from these times. He’s from the old times.”
It has long been known that the quality Mourinho values above anything in his players is hard work on the pitch, which includes his widemen putting a shift in to track back when his teams don’t have the ball. A reason why he has long been loyal to perhaps the less glamorous names, but still hugely effective players ‘the Special One’ has managed throughout his career. Prime case in point, Claude Makelele, who seldom made forays forward, but was extraordinarily disciplined and did the simple things probably better than anyone in the game at the time.
“I had some guys in my career – they didn’t want to [defend]. You try to build something behind them to protect,” Mourinho continued. ” [Hazard’s] problem is not that. He wants. The only problem is to be focused during the 90 minutes and understand when he has to, and when he doesn’t have to.
“I always say to him – you look to the situation. Sometimes you don’t need to [track back]. And you have to learn to read the game to know when you don’t have to. For example, if Matic is completely closed on the left side, and just behind him, I don’t want him to come. I want Matic to cope with the situation. I love to work with him. I love the kid. He will always have my support. He knows my nature. Our relationship is at a point where I can tell him anything. He knows I like him a lot. We are fine because of that.”
The trophy that has eluded Mourinho throughout his Chelsea career is the Champions League, which he has won at Porto and Inter Milan. Coming very close last season, reaching the semi-finals, the Blues maybe exceeded expectations, considering the slight lack of cutting edge they had in their squad then and no clinical striker.
Hazard can be vital to the Blues’ European credentials for seasons to come. They first must put three points on the board against Maribor.
True to his style Mourinho always takes it one game at a time and, with Hazard reading off the same blueprint that has delivered the Chelsea boss a multitude of trophies, the Belgian has every chance of becoming one of Europe’s greats. For that reason, plus many others, back Hazard at 6/1 to really step up in Costa’s absence and strike two or more at Stamford Bridge against minnows Maribor.