Serial thriller

Eden Hazard’s movement is balletic, his pace searing and his directness rapier-like. Often his mere presence on the ball is enough to distract defenders and create space for others. Whether the Belgian runs himself or passes the ball on, his impact can be devastating, writes Matt McGeehan.

When Eden Hazard receives the ball, there is a brief silence as onlookers await his next move. In a fraction of a second, those watching at home move to the edge of their sofas, and those in the stadium, clock who is on the ball before an eruption of a deafening, expectant noise. Opposition defenders reel back and his team-mates prepare to react to what the playmaker is about to do.

The 24-year-old Belgian, who has won the PFA Player of the Year award, has ability from another planet, according to his Chelsea team-mate Branislav Ivanovic. “Sometimes he looks so impressive, like he is not from this world,” said the right-back, who is one of six Chelsea players in the PFA team of the year.

Hazard’s movement is balletic, his pace searing and his directness rapier-like. Often his mere presence on the ball is enough to distract defenders and create space for others. Whether Hazard runs himself or passes the ball on, his impact can be devastating. So devastating, that the Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho values Hazard at GBP 200 million.

“GBP 100m each leg,” the Blues’ boss said recently, “because he’s very young.”

Mourinho has lauded the maturity and consistency of Hazard in recent weeks and the self-proclaimed Special One deserves plenty of credit for moulding Hazard into what he is today.

In his two seasons back at Stamford Bridge, the demanding Portuguese has asked Hazard to be more defensive, and the forward has delivered.

“These are the kind of players that win matches for the team, but you must work them in a way where they don’t lose matches for the team,” Mourinho said.

“In my career I lost matches because of my best players. In this moment, Eden is in a state of mind and a tactical approach where this season we won matches because of him and we didn’t lose matches because of him. This is the player I like because he’s a talented player that understands what the team needs.”

The Chelsea manager says Hazard, who joined from Lille in 2012 for GBP 32m, values collective awards more than individual ones. Mourinho speaks of a “kid” who is humble, hardworking and — despite being the most fouled player in the Premier League this term — refuses to “cheat”. Hazard has scored 18 times this season, and the championship title he covets is within reach for Chelsea.

Mourinho’s valuation followed praise from Zinedine Zidane, Hazard’s idol, whose position as coach of Real Madrid Castilla (B-team) led to inevitable speculation of a move to the Bernabeu.

“I enjoy everything he does on the pitch,” Zidane told FIFA.com.

Hazard, though, is happy at Stamford Bridge, having recently signed a contract extension until 2021.

Mourinho and Zidane already see Hazard as one of the world’s three best players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi being the others.

“I like the way he carries himself, that decisive streak in him and the fact that he’s improving every year,” Zidane said. “He can still get better too, and I think he’s a big reason why Chelsea are on top of the table.”

Mourinho and Zidane expect Hazard to get better. It is a frightening prospect for those in opposition; it is a delightful prospect for the rest of us.

© PA Sport