Chelsea have a real player on their hands in the shape of Eden Hazard.
That’s the immediate assessment of the Champions League winners’ most recent acquisition, signed from Lille last week in a reported £32 million deal that the player announced on Twitter.
Every top club in Europe were keen to add the 21-year-old, with both Manchester United and Manchester City tracking the player for months last season. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger and Tottenham Hotspur chief Harry Redknapp had also shown interest.
However, the attacking midfielder intimated that playing time would be a decisive factor in his move, which suggested the riches at City weren’t going to be enough if he wasn’t playing every week.
A lack of European football at the top table meant Spurs were out of the running as soon as the Blues achieved glory at the Allianz Arena, and with that victory the foundations were put in place for Hazard to move to Stamford Bridge.
Yesterday’s clash between Belgium and England at Wembley was the first real chance for many to take a closer look at Hazard, with the hype around him largely built from performances in the French top flight – Ligue 1.
People in the know are undoubtedly certain of Hazard’s ability at least, with the likes of Zinadine Zidane and Joe Cole confident he can make the transition to the next level.
"I've probably put about £5m on his transfer with the amount of things I've said about him. He's got everything. He'll maybe become one of the best players in the world," said Cole, a team-mate at Los Dogues last season.
Zidane added: "Eden is technically gifted and very fast. I would take him to Real Madrid with my eyes closed. He can become a great footballer; he is a star of the future."
Consistency is going to be the key, playing against top-quality opposition week in, week out in a handful of competitions. Whilst the French top flight continues to improve, it isn’t yet at the standard of the Premier League, which can test your physical ability at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, and then your technical strength and tactical awareness on Tuesday at Old Trafford.
In the English capital yesterday, we saw fleeting glimpses of what Hazard has to offer Roberto Di Matteo – or whoever takes the managerial position on a full-time basis next season – against a defensive-minded Three Lions.
One potential concern is that Hazard wasn’t able to pick the England lock placed in-front of him. With Chelsea’s power comes respect from opposition, and many will set-up a defensive wall that the youngster and Juan Mata will need to break through.
That said, there were plenty of positives to take from the performance, with Hazard the jewel in the crown for his country alongside plenty of rising stars. Dries Mertens, Moussa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel are all names we already know or should be watching out for, but it’s Hazard who is recognised as the future star for his country.
His quick feet and close control were on show from the off, although in-truth he had little to work with for large spells as long passes were fired into his feet.
Bringing the ball forward, Hazard showed good acceleration on a number of occasions to bring the ball clear from defence, and that’s a trait Sir Alex Ferguson noted during one of his many scouting trips to view the player.
"Hazard is a very good player. He has many qualities. He is particularly rapid in the first 10 yards," noted the Scot.
Delivery from set-pieces were also a positive, with one first-half free-kick causing particular concern in the England danger zone. Crosses were hit and miss, but to expect perfection every time would have been asking too much with the eyes of the nation on Hazard.
Booed by large sections of the crowd on announcement, the youngster will have realised very quickly that he’s going to be an unpopular figure amongst opposition fans for the sole reason that he’s good.
It’s something he will have experienced in France, of course, but the sense of hate can often run that little bit deeper in English fans, who are happy to make the environment hostile when they feel it’s necessary.
Hazard will have to rise above that if he’s to make the big impression we all expect him to, particularly away from Stamford Bridge, and composure wasn’t an issue for the player under the arch in the early evening on Saturday.
Happy to interchange position, moving from the centre to either flank, Hazard showed us that he will be able to adapt in either a 4-3-3 formation, or 4-4-2 playing in the ‘No.10’ role behind the striker.
With so many possibilities, it's easy to see why the football world is excited by this player, who has the potential to be the next European superstar for club and country.
Expect something very special in the years to come.
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