By Andrew Kennedy
In recent months Lille starlet Eden Hazard has been a one-man rumour mill, with the future of the young Belgian a subject of intense and incessant speculation which has in turn allowed him to play the field with a host of top European clubs.
The 21-year-old’s transfer is already lined up to be the blockbuster move of the summer and with England’s elite ready to roll out the red carpet to secure his services, Goal.com takes a look back at the hunt for Hazard’s signature up to now and where he is likely to end up.
|The story so far
Long touted as one of the next big things in European football, Hazard had already interested the likes of Arsenal, Real Madrid and Inter as early as last summer. Yet, with a Ligue 1 title under his belt with current club Lille and in turn a season of Champions League football, the wideman opted to remain in northern France.
While the player’s agent, John Bico, revealed in October that Real Madrid had been “watching him for quite a while”, the first English club to show a firm interest in the Belgium international was Chelsea - with the Blues still in the midst of a first-team revamp under their now former manager Andre Villas-Boas.
By the end of the month, Hazard had confirmed his desire to leave Lille and “make the next step in my career at a bigger club”, yet the interest of the west Londoners and Real had waned.
The Spanish giants, along with La Liga rivals Barcelona, had turned their attentions to Montpellier’s Younes Belhanda - the young Moroccan who has since steered his side to the French title - while Villas-Boas’ desire only to sign players available for European competition prevented a potential January move, with the Blues seemingly pulling out of the race by February.
The Belgian’s representatives had already been enticing other interested parties, and after Hazard confirmed he would move “to England” in late January, both Manchester City and United jostled for pole position in the race to land the player’s signature over the following months.
Although Arsene Wenger would concede his desire to see Hazard arrive at Arsenal, there was no real conviction in his efforts, while Tottenham’s brief link to the player soon evaporated after Spurs’ end-of-season stumble, leaving the two Manchester clubs to battle it out.
Sir Alex Ferguson was first to scout Hazard in person, taking in Lille’s 2-1 defeat to Lyon in March, yet despite his initial reluctance, it would be Roberto Mancini who soon set upon the charm offensive to land his man.
Throughout January Mancini distanced himself from a move for the player, with the Italian more than likely distracted by the club’s attempts to sell Carlos Tevez, but still by February, the 47-year-old insisted he did not “envisage recruiting him.”
Whether the ex-Inter boss was indulging in similar mind games to those he employed during the Premier League run-in, or was stirred by seeing his side nearly throw away the title after a series of inept performances, the City manager soon pinned his colours to the mast.
“City would be the perfect destination for him” Mancini stated last month, having watched Lille’s 4-0 victory over Valenciennes in which Hazard scored once and created two more.
Hazard inspired Lille to a 2-1 victory over PSG in front of City suit Patrick Vieira and United’s Martin Ferguson in late April, before reportedly attending the clash between the two Premier League sides at the Etihad Stadium a day later. And, after confirming his switch to the north west just over a week ago, Hazard was set to reveal which side of the Manchester divide he would plump for on Sunday evening.
That was until Chelsea’s triumph in Saturday’s Champions League final, with the prospect of life at Stamford Bridge more tempting for the attacker now they have secured their position in Europe’s elite competition next season. However, the Blues will be aware they are no longer the richest kids on the block, and Hazard is making no bones about playing his hand to the maximum.
Despite securing the FA Cup and Champions League this season, Chelsea will undergo a major overhaul this summer. With the club having already heavily invested in young Belgian talent such as Romelu Lukaku (right), Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois, Hazard will be presented with his biggest opportunity to play regularly at Stamford Bridge.
Gifted on either wing, the 21-year-old could seamlessly fit into the 4-3-3 formation so often favoured by the Blues in past, while the 4-2-3-1 used by Roberto Di Matteo would allow Hazard room to devastate from the second bank of attack – particularly with Juan Mata distributing from the hole.
Chances of signing:
Arguably the ideal choice for Hazard, with the Belgian likely to be handed a lead role in a revamp of the newly crowned European champions. However, the Blues must be wary of a player who could be attempting to use their interest in order to gain a larger pay day elsewhere.
A move to the Etihad Stadium would not only prove lucrative in financial terms, but also provide a guarantee of competing in the upper echelons of the Premier League and the Champions League over a sustained period.
The presence of the impressive David Silva and Samir Nasri (right), the latter coming to the fore during the run-in last season, will provide stern competition for Hazard in the wide positions of Mancini’s preferred 4-2-2-2, yet hopes of prolonged participation in a number of cup competitions in the coming campaign should ensure the attacker sees more than his fair share of game time.
A criticism of City at times, particularly during their lean streak in front of goal away from home, was their failure to penetrate in the final third of the field – something which arguably made Carlos Tevez’s return a necessity – and it is a problem Hazard’s spark could well be the solution to.
Chances of signing:
Money aside, Manchester City may be on the verge of a dominant era in English football if they continue their rapid development. This is surely a factor for Hazard alongside the bumper contract, and there is certainly room for a player of his calibre in their first team.
The free-flowing counterattack football mastered by Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford could reap huge rewards from Hazard’s arrival. His pace and dribbling would slot in perfectly with a Manchester United side heavily reliant on attacking wide players.
While the likes of Antonio Valencia (right), Ashley Young and Nani form some of the strongest pillars of the United squad, the manager’s rotation of his wingers throughout the season would ensure the Belgian had ample opportunity in the first XI.
Hazard would shine in the 4-4-2 formation so often used by the Red Devils, but in the 4-5-1 employed by Sir Alex when his team’s backs are likely to be against the wall, the 21-year-old’s ability could really begin to be utilised if he is able to drift in and link up with Wayne Rooney when he is used as a lone striker.
Chances of signing:
United remain an attractive option, and if Hazard indicated his preference would be for Old Trafford, then money would not be a stumbling block. That said, they are still likely to be pipped to the post by City.Follow Andrew Kennedy on