Lille have been, without doubt, Ligue 1’s most entertaining side to watch for the past two seasons. In 2009/10, the northern France club scored 72 goals, while at the time of writing they have rippled the net 43 times this season. But if strikers Moussa Sow and Gervinho are the players who know how to put the ball in the back of the net, Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard is the rising star of this impressive Lille side. Hazard’s talent has found its home in coach Rudi Garcia’s 4-3-3 system, and is the driving force behind Lille’s ambition to win this season’s Ligue 1 title – it would be their first since 1954.
At the age of just 20 though, Hazard seems ready to fly the Lille nest and make the grade in one of Europe’s biggest leagues. For the second time in a row, the Belgian has been handed the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award, in the process becoming the first foreign player to receive the accolade, and the first to win it twice. With superb vision, the youngster has 14 Ligue 1 assists to his name this season, has been widely acclaimed the league’s best dribbler and regularly picks up free kicks in dangerous areas.
Hazard was born in the city of La Louviere on 7th January 1991, and grew up in a football family. Father Thierry was a central defender for Belgian side Tubize, while his mother Carine played football in Belgium too – “a very tough lady”, said Tubize sporting director Theo Buelinckx, “and the only woman I have ever met who waited for the coach after a game to ask him why her man had not played.” Even Hazard’s two younger brothers are footballers: 17-year-old Thorgan, a Belgium Under-19 international, is on the books at Lens, while 15-year-old Kylian has already taken his first steps in Lille’s youth set-up.
At the age of 14, Hazard chose to leave his homeland for France, after being spotted by Lille playing in a local tournament. “Me and my parents”, recalled the Belgian, “were looking for a club with professional training facilities at which I could develop my qualities. Lille was simply perfect.”
Less than two years later and Hazard was leading Belgium to the semi-finals of the 2007 European Under-17 Championship. While the Red Devils lost against Spain on penalties, the youngster had a fine tournament, scoring in the opener against Holland and being included in the top five talents alongside, amongst others, current Barcelona schemer Bojan Krkic. The same year, on 25th November, Hazard made his Ligue 1 debut against Nancy – the Belgian was 16 years, ten months and eight days old.
In 2008, the Lille star made his first start for the senior Belgium side, coming on as a substitute for Wesley Sonck in a friendly against Luxembourg. At the age of 17 years and 316 days, Hazard became the eighth youngest player in the country’s history. Despite counting himself as a regular since September 2009, the 20-year-old is still looking for his first goal. In Belgium, there are those who comment that Hazard can be inconsistent, often performing well below his best. “To produce a nine out of ten in a game and a six out of ten in the following two is not enough for such a skilled player”, argued the country’s monthly magazine Passie voor voetbal, while Belgium’s assistant coach Marc Wilmots commented that: “Hazard must learn to work harder. I don’t like the lazy mentality he sometimes shows when he’s training with us”.
Lille coach Rudi Garcia though stands as the player’s most ardent fan. “Eden is not a nugget, he is a mine”, replied Garcia to those asking for the coaches view on criticism that had headed Hazard’s way. “He is still young and should be given the time he needs to complete his development without putting too much pressure on him.”
Garcia plays Hazard as a left winger in his 4-3-3 system, despite the Belgian always considering himself a number 10, who prefers to operate in a free role behind a striker. In the last two seasons, the youngster’s progress with Les Douges (The Mastiffs) has led to Lille chairman Michel Seydoux having to work overtime to fend off interest from several of Europe’s biggest clubs. The chairman hardly needed Zinedine Zidane to advertise Hazard’s brilliance any further by stating: “I predict Hazard will be a major star in the future. I would take him to Real Madrid with my eyes closed.”
Zidane’s opinion did not come as a surprise though, especially to Belgium Under-21 coach Jean-Francois De Sart. “Along with Thomas Vermaelen and Romelu Lukaku, Hazard is set to become one of Belgium’s key players in the future”, said De Sart. “Hazard has everything he needs to make the grade at the highest level. The French league is indisputably a good school; however, it is not the top. When I think about his future I think about Real Madrid, Arsenal or Barcelona.”
The Catalan club’s style of play has often been compared by Hazard to that which is served up by his current side Lille. “Our coach’s philosophy is based on an attacking mentality, ball possession and attractive approach”, said the 20-year-old starlet. “Lille is a little Barcelona.”
While waiting for a call-up to the big team that graces the Camp Nou, Hazard is ready to lead Lille to a historic title triumph.
Fonte: Inside Futbol