Blues’ new favourite

Despite forking out such an astronomical fee, Chelsea has seen enough of the tricky wide-man, Eden Hazard, to believe that is a shrewd piece of business. By Liam Prenderville.

After making his senior debut as a 16-year-old, few would have expected the meteoric rise of Eden Hazard.

The Belgium international winger was one of the most sought after footballers on the planet this summer and Chelsea won the race for his signature, paying Lille a whopping GBP32 million for the 21-year-old star.

And despite forking out such an astronomical fee, the European champions will already have seen enough of the tricky wide-man to believe that is a shrewd piece of business.

Hazard has been outstanding in the opening weeks of the English Premier League season and he will play a key role in Chelsea’s bid to win the EPL title and defend their UEFA Champions League crown.

The young Belgian spent around seven years at French club Lille, having joined the Ligue 1 outfit as a youth player back in 2005 and signed a professional contract two years later. During the 2007/08 season, Hazard made a series of substitute appearances for the senior side, but it was not until the following campaign that he really made his breakthrough.

After being promoted to the first team by new Lille boss Rudi Garcia, his first senior goal in September 2008 saw him become the youngest goal-scorer in the club's history.

Hazard went on to make 35 appearances, scoring six times as he helped his side finish fifth in the table, resulting in Lille qualifying for the UEFA Europa League.

The 2010/11 season was the winger’s most successful, as he helped Lille clinch their first title since 1954, scoring 12 goals and picking up the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award — and becoming the youngest ever player to do so.

After a return of 22 goals in his final season for the club, Hazard ended weeks of speculation by announcing via Twitter he would be joining Chelsea at the end of last season.

Only a few weeks later, the move was confirmed and after 36 goals in 147 appearances for Lille, Blues’ boss Roberto Di Matteo was absolutely delighted to secure his signature.

“He’s a talented man, a talented young boy. We’ll have to see how he grows into a man, and how quickly he will become an important player for Chelsea,” he said.

Hazard has already been likened to Stamford Bridge legend Gianfranco Zola, and while Di Matteo admits it may be too early for such comparisons, he has been very impressed by the Belgian flyer’s start to his Chelsea career.

“He seems to have found his feet very quickly. He’s a wonderful player for us.” the Italian said. “Gianfranco was a wonderful talent, an artist I would say. Eden might become an artist as well. He’s a young man but he already has a lot of experience in terms of playing games. He knows how to handle himself,” said the Italian boss.

After making his Belgium debut against Luxembourg in 2008, Hazard has gone on to score twice in 30 appearances for his country, the first coming against Kazakhstan last year.

Just two minutes into his EPL debut, against Wigan, Hazard set up Branislav Ivanovic’s opening goal and then won a penalty for his new side shortly after to secure a comfortable 2-0 win.

Only four days later he won another penalty for his side against newly-promoted Reading, before scoring his first goal for the club from the spot in a 2-0 home victory over Newcastle.

After the club’s impressive start to the campaign, Hazard sees no reason why his new club can’t add to their trophy haul, and he is desperate for success.

“At Chelsea you have to win every game. The objective is win, win, win. This season there are six trophies to play for. Big clubs like Chelsea are formatted to win.” said Hazard. “The game goes a bit quicker here, the reaction times are maybe a bit shorter, the challenges are stronger and the fans live for football, which is what I needed to feel.”

If Eden Hazard’s first few Chelsea appearances are anything to go by, comparisons with Zola will continue to be made and he could become a Blues legend.

Hazard is in a relationship with girlfriend Natasha, with whom he has a son named Yanis.

FACTFILE NAME: Eden Hazard POSITION: Winger CLUB: Chelsea DOB: 7/1/1991 INTERNATIONAL CAPS: 30 GOALS: 2

MOMENT TO REMEMBER: Scoring his first Lille goal in a 2-2 draw with Auxerre in 2008, making him the club’s youngest-ever goalscorer.

MOMENT TO FORGET: After being substituted in Belgium's match with Turkey last year, Hazard was spotted outside the stadium eating a burger while the match was still going on.

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