Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Hazard deal a real coup for Chelsea


When you live in a world where a man makes a toy helicopter out of the corpse of his dead cat, truly anything is possible.
Yet had you told Early Doors a few months ago that, with Chelsea struggling badly in the league and 3-1 down to Napoli in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash, Eden Hazard would be signing for the club, you would have heard a short and derisive snort in reply.
But there he was on Monday, posing with a Chelsea shirt after turning down Manchester United and Manchester City to join a club without a long-term manager in place.
And it transpires that as well as winning the FA Cup and the Champions League, the outgoing Roberto Di Matteo secured a third highly desired prize before tentatively clearing his desk and waiting for his P45 to be pushed under the door.
Because in winning the Champions League, Chelsea also won Eden Hazard.
"It's true that initially there were a number of clubs in for me but when Chelsea won the Champions League I thought, 'why not?'," Hazard said.
"Ultimately for a player it's all about winning things. I want to win as many trophies as possible which is another reason why I came here as Chelsea have been winning things for a long time now."
But perhaps the most surprising part of Hazard's first interview as a Chelsea player was when he offered another reason for his decision to move to Stamford Bridge.
"There was a struggle between Chelsea and United but, for me, Chelsea has the best project," Hazard said. "I was in advanced contact with both clubs and I spoke to both coaches. I want to be playing in the Champions League every year.
"The team is young and I have a better chance to play there. At 21, Real or Barca would have been more difficult for me. If I play well enough at Chelsea, I could win my place in the starting team. "
Hazard's perception of Chelsea as a young team is an intriguing one, particularly in contrast to a club in United who are renowned for placing their faith in youth and cultivating some of the great Premier League careers. And to believe he has a better chance of starting for Chelsea when United have a cavernous hole of creativity in the centre of their side is also unexpected.
Based on these two criteria, you would have imagined a move to United would have been almost a formality, yet once again - following disappointments in their pursuits of Wesley Sneijder, David Villa, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema in recent seasons - United have been outmanoeuvred.
It isn't that long since Fergie famously said Chelsea had peaked and that their established players had little room for improvement. Furthermore, this season their close-knit group of ageing stars such as John Terry, Frank Lampard and the now departed Didier Drogba had been painted as something of a Dad's Army, albeit an insurrectionary one with aspirations of toppling their own Captain Mainwaring, Andre Villas-Boas.
Yet having successfully integrated Gary Cahill, David Luiz, Ramires and above all Juan Mata in the past two years, Chelsea have given their squad a new lease of life, a distinct freshness which has brushed away fears of stagnation. Given he is only 21, the arrival of Hazard will only accelerate this process.
Suddenly Chelsea are hip again, even if the nature of their Champions League victory ultimately won them few friends. If they do sign Hulk from Porto for £38 million then that notion will only be reinforced. This is a team to watch out for next season.
But how will Hazard help them?
ED was somewhat surprised to see him deployed as the most advanced player when Belgium lost 1-0 to England at Wembley on Saturday. As a false nine he was no Lionel Messi, but he was certainly no Jordi Gomez either.
Though his performance elicited a lukewarm reception from most of the English media, ED was actually very impressed by his composure and comfort on the ball. Hazard demonstrated a cultured first touch and an ability to find time and space that will serve him well in the hurly-burly of English football. He uses the ball extremely well and has outlandish technique.
Chelsea will not play him as a false nine - they already have one player masquerading as a striker in Fernando Torres - so Hazard and Mata will occupy the central playmaker's role and the position wide on the left.
If Hulk joins to take up position on the right, it promises to be a Chelsea attack full of invention and purpose; a youthful and vigorous collective. It is tricky to improve on winning the FA Cup and the Champions League, yet the arrival of Hazard certainly gives Chelsea the chance to challenge for the Premier League again after a horribly fallow year on that front.
Chelsea's recent rejuvenation, late as it was, helped coax one of Europe's finest young talents to Stamford Bridge. Now the onus is on Hazard to help the process along.

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