- On Wednesday, Eden Hazard will lock horns with France, the country in which he rose to football prominence.
- He has taken well to José Mourinho’s methods at Chelsea.
- He is keen to improve his effectiveness.
Eden Hazard still has visible bags under his eyes. The La Louvière-born midfielder is clearly not at his freshest, following Chelsea’s Asian tour (he was named Player of the Year last season by the club’s Thailand-based supporters) and the jet lag that came with it. “There’s no doubt that I’m a bit tired, but I’ll be able to summon up the energy needed for a game like this one,” he says with a smile. “There’s always a rivalry when we play France, given that we’re neighbors. It’s kind of like a derby. And the coach has made it clear that derbies need to be won.”
Le Soir: Eden, Belgium goes into this match against France as favorite rather than an outsider, which is quite surprising. Does that reflect the changing dynamics in both teams?
Eden Hazard: For me France is still the favorite, just because of the team’s collective experience. They’re really something, when you think about it: a World Cup, a European Championship, Zidane etc. Even if that’s going back a few years now. France has a trophy cabinet that Belgium would love to have. A few years ago, we dreamed of following in France’s footsteps, and since then, the teams have kind of drawn level with each other. We have the so-called “golden generation,” but it hasn’t actually achieved anything yet. Over the past year or two, we’ve begun to win crucial matches, but people will judge us on whether or not we qualify for the World Cup, and how we perform once we get to Brazil. We mustn’t forget that, although I’d be happy to rack up another victory on Wednesday, it’s only a friendly. Beating Scotland at the beginning of September is much more important.
But facing France must stir up certain emotions inside you.
I know a lot of their players – Adil Rami, Rio Mavuba, Grégory Payet – and we’ve been sending each other little put-downs for a good few months now. That said, the last time we took on France, I didn’t play all that well and the match was pretty tight. I hope that Wednesday’s encounter will offer more in the way of entertainment to the fans.
How did your pre-season under José Mourinho go at Chelsea?
Very well. After a month of working with him, I can confirm that he is indeed the “Special one.” He laughs and makes fun of us a lot.
More importantly, he seems to have confidence in you, despite the presence of Juan Mata and Oscar, the return of Kevin De Bruyne and the purchase of André Schürrle.
The club has signed quite a few players who can play out wide. There’ll therefore be a bit of rotation, I imagine, but I don’t get the impression that my role is going to change. I’ll no doubt continue to be used down one of the flanks.
He wants you to become a more effective player.
That’s good, because it’s what I want as well.
And he stated that he was not going to give you any compliments because it’s not something he does with highly talented players.
I don’t need any. I know what I’m capable of and what I need to do. I’ll be satisfied if overall I do better than last season. The same goes for the team as a whole. A year ago, we were involved in seven competitions. I hoped we’d win two or three of them, and in the end the Europa League was our only trophy. We’ve got six opportunities to pick up some silverware this campaign, and I hope we can do better.
Many observers see Chelsea as the favorite for the league title in England.
Even though the effect of changing managers and losing a big personality like Alex Ferguson isn’t clear yet, Manchester United remains the team to beat. They’re the defending champions and their team hasn’t got any worse. Manchester City has brought in some good players and Vincent Kompany seems very confident to me. It’s going to be a real battle, and the most consistent team will claim the title. Our squad is bigger and fresher than last year, and given that we won’t be playing in the World Club Cup this season, we’re definitely in with a shout.
Chelsea’s other Belgians should also have a chance to establish themselves in the side.
Romelu Lukaku proved last season that he is equipped to do well in the Premier League. Kevin De Bruyne is less athletic but he’s an intelligent player who passes the ball extremely well; he could impose himself in any team. In the meantime, their presence in the locker room does make life a little easier for me. Last year, I sometimes felt a bit lonely.
Zakaria Bakkali, who plays a similar role to you, was recently drafted into the Belgium squad. What do you think of him?
I don’t know an awful lot about him, but I’ve seen clips of some of his recent displays.
My brother Thorgan had already praised his qualities and achievements, though. With his size and career path so far, there are some similarities to how my game developed, and our excellent group of players will welcome him and help him settle in if he decides he wants to be a regular part of our squad. I’m the last person who’s going to complain about the addition of new, high-quality players.
Even though he took your brother’s place?
The coach has decisions to make, and if Thorgan puts in the same kind of season as he did last year, he should make his way back into the Belgian squad. I believe he made the right choice in extending his loan at Zulte Waregem, because it means he’ll continue to play regularly.