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Hazard on fire

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

BRUSSELS - Like mother, like son. Mrs Hazard used to play as a striker, in Belgium's women's first division. Now Eden is making a pretty decent stab of maintaining that maternal tradition at first Lille and now Chelsea.

The Belgian international, whose younger brother Thorgen is also on Chelsea's books, heads off to the World Cup with a giant spring in his step, or entangled in controversy, depending on your point of view.

The 23-year-old's attacking performances have helped inspire Chelsea in the Premier League this season and earned him the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

Jose Mourinho, not a man prone to showering his players with idle platitudes, has suggested Hazard's "probably the best young player in the world" — with potential to rival Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Mourinho made that comment in February, after the gifted winger had helped Chelsea beat Manchester City.

The month before, there'd been further praise.

"The kid is in a very good moment of his career. Three consecutive times he is man of the match," purred the Portuguese.

"He is a player who feels and accepts the responsibility, feels and accepts that a team player is more than a talented player, and without losing his fantastic ability and fantastic talent."

Fast forward to the beginning of May, and the Chelsea boss was taking an altogether different tack.

Stung by Hazard's apparent criticism of Chelsea's 'counter-attack' approach in the wake of their Champions League semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid Mourinho accused the Belgian of failing to be a team player.

"When the comments come from a player like Eden, it's normal. He's not the kind of player ready to sacrifice himself 100 per cent for the team and his mates."

Ouch.

Hazard moved to north London in a STG32 million ($A58.41 million) deal in 2012 after helping Lille win the French league and Cup double.

The story goes that the first he learnt about Chelsea's interest was when Ivory Coast international Gervinho passed him his mobile during training one day with Lille.

According to Hazard's then boss, Rudi Garcia, Didier Drogba had called Gervinho, and asked if Hazard was with him.

"Yes, he is here," Gervinho said.

Taking the phone, Garcia relates in his autobiography, Hazard heard Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich tell him: "I don't know how much you earn at Lille, but I will triple your salary.'"

When he steps out to lead the attack against Algeria in Belgium's World Cup opener in Belo Horizonte on June 17 he could be forgiven for remembering the days when as a young boy he would crawl through a hole in a fence to gain access onto the local pitch beside his family home in La Louviere.

Nowadays of course he rocks up to training through the main gate, behind the wheel of some expensive machine.

Whether that'll still be for Chelsea next season is unclear, with French champions Paris Saint-Germain reportedly interested in trying to lure him to the Parc des Princes.

Before returning to club football the pressure is on for him to light up Brazil from Belgium manager Marc Wilmots.





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