The Guardian's Dominic Fifield has an exclusive new interview with our boy-wonder Eden Hazard, and while the headline goes with a re-hash of the "leave on a high note" quotes we also heard in the summer at least twice — "If I ever leave, it'll be after winning a championship" — the rest of the interview has plenty of new things to chew over.
Even the non-new things serve as important confirmations of certain narratives, such as playing through hip pain for much of last season.
"I'm playing without pain. Last year was complicated. Some people didn't believe it but I played with an injury [he points at his hip] for a long time. I was never 100%, and when you're not completely fit it's hard to play at your best. But I had a good break after the Euros, a good pre-season, and was ready. Liberated, yes. It feels like that sometimes, being injury-free and if a system brings the best out of you."
And that system of course is the 3-4-3, which Hazard plays for both club and country nowadays, with impressive results at both (Belgium beat Estonia 8-1 just the other day, for example). We've talked about this repeatedly as well — it's hard not to, considering the tremendous reversal in fortunes since the 3-0 loss to Arsenal (where "everything changed", as Hazard puts it), both in terms of individual and team performances. We would not have believed it at the time but so far, it's proving the turning point of the season.
It's still early in the season however, and the race for the top four, our stated aim in pre-season, is only starting in earnest. It's a good thing the players have bought into Conte's methods and madness, even if the latter quality gets a bit tiring sometimes.
"If someone had told us before the season that if we did everything Conte asked of us we'd have a chance to become champions again, we'd all have signed up. We have bought into it. This is what he wants from us and believes we need to do to achieve something special."
"He kicks every ball, heads every ball. If he could, he'd be out there with us, our 12th man on the pitch. You can see he was a player. It's only now and again, when he's screaming at you to do this or that, demanding you concentrate or work even harder, you find yourself thinking: ‘Hold on a second, we're 4-0 up with five minutes to play. Easy now, boss. Calm down ...' But that's the way he is. That's his personality. That's how he works. He expects a lot of us, he's demanding, and he never stops wanting more from his players. But when you're in his side winning matches every week, it's obvious his methods work."
Hazard certainly seems more relaxed and has gotten that joy back into his football. Winning games makes everyting easier of course, but there's also a good sense of the respect Conte commands from the squad, despite being so new to this situation. Hazard reveals that he first taked to Conte face-to-face back in March, and already gave his full commitment to the new Chelsea boss back then.
"Back in March I'd spoken [to Conte] about the difficult season I'd had up to then, and what he expected of me in the year to come. I'd not scored many goals, but he saw me as a goalscorer. He spoke to me about his preferred systems, the 3-4-3 or even with two up front. His passion and enthusiasm for the job were obvious. I made clear I had no intention of leaving after such a poor year. I didn't want to go out like that. If I ever leave, it'll be after winning a championship. You need to go out on a high so that people remember you for the right reasons."
Last season was entirely forgettable unfortunately, though it did have at least a couple glorious moments. One of the most impactful was Hazard's goal against Spurs that officially won the title for Leicester City.
"That was the best memory of last year because of the rivalry with Tottenham. I was on the bench, we were losing 2-0 at the break and had been up against it, and at half-time we were in that dressing-room saying: ‘Lads, it's 26 years since we last lost to Tottenham here. This isn't the day that record is going to end.' It kickstarted us. Gary Cahill scored from a corner, and then my goal..."
"Even a 2-2 draw felt like a victory because it had been such a difficult season, and we knew we had wounded our local rivals in Tottenham. Leicester were the ones who really enjoyed that night, of course. So yes, I've scored the goals that have decided the title in the last two years, but hopefully this season I'll be scoring one to bring the trophy back to Chelsea."
-Eden Hazard; source: Guardian
Lads, it's Tottenham. So say we all.
Hazard also talks about his debut at Lille, getting dive-bombed by a live eagle at Crystal Palace, having his good friend Christian Benteke back in London, and much more, so be sure to read the full interview over at The Guardian. It's well worth your time.
BONUS HAZARD QUOTES RE MOURINHO:
"The relationship was always the same."
"For him it was difficult to lose a game because it's in his character to win all the time. But we were together. We were together at the top, and in the bad moments - we suffered together.
"I sent him a message just to say 'good luck' and I hope he can win some games. Not too much because we want Chelsea to become champions - but I want him to be at the top again."
-Eden Hazard; source: Mirror
Mourinho and United certainly in no danger of winning too much these days. Tee-hee.