Eden Hazard says he’s only had one bad season in his twelve years as a professional footballer. It probably doesn’t take much guessing to figure out that he means 2015-16, the “Mourinho Season”. Chelsea were champions in May and one point above relegation in mid-December. By the time the axe fell, the season had become a write-off.
There were many factors that led to Mourinho’s spectacular demise that year, some self-generated, some hoisted on him by the club, some out of his control, and some well within it. Even now, a full three years later, there are no easy answers. But one of the factors that definitely played a part was players returning from the summer break overweight and under-motivated. And that’s the part that gnaws at Hazard to this day.
“In those twelve years of professional career, I have had one bad year – the last six months under Mourinho, and it was partly my own fault. After the title, we had asked Mourinho for extra holidays. I was totally out of shape at the start of the season, I remembered that lesson this summer – four weeks after the World Cup I was back in training at Chelsea.”
Hazard even sent a text to Mourinho to apologize for all that had transpired at the time, which he first revealed a few months after the sacking.
“I sent him the message to say I was sorry he had gone and ... well ... just that I was sorry. We’d enjoyed all that success together last season, but this time round we hadn’t. I felt a little bit guilty because I’d been player of the year. I’d been one of the most decisive players, and this year I’d performed less well.”
”I hadn’t been at the same level. So I sent that text to José and he came back to me, wishing me all the best for the future. For a team of champions to go through what we have this year even I can’t explain. Things have been better recently, but we’re still not winning games quite as we used to. No one can put his finger on what’s happened at Chelsea.”
-Eden Hazard; February 2016
While Chelsea repeated the boom-bust cycle under Conte as well, there were a lot fewer questions asked about Hazard’s commitment to the cause by then. Now, under Sarri, there are even fewer, as he strives for a career-best season.
But Hazard still looks back fondly to the good times under The Special One. After all, winning is always fun and no coach can make losing fun (at least not in a serious, professional setting), but winning is most fun when it’s the singular, overriding purpose of every fiber of your being, like it is for José.
“If you win, Mourinho is the best coach you can imagine. Then he is a friend of yours – you can do whatever you want (laughs). Want one day off, he gives you two. If everything goes well, Mourinho will experience football like me: with ease. Even his own image of an extremely defensive coach was not too bad. He is far from adventurous like Guardiola, but the year in which we became champions, we have made many goals and played good games.
“I do not regret many things in my career, but that I have not been able to work with Mourinho at Chelsea anymore (is one). We had a team to get a lot of prizes, but we just ended up in a negative spiral.”
Apparently Conte was not a close enough substitute?
Eden of course realizes that the Mourinho situation was untenable at the time. Palpable discord is palpable because everyone can sense it. The sacking had to be. Still, if he has to pick a coach to work with again, it’s got to be Mourinho. Presumably the one who wins a lot, not this current version.
“The last season under Mourinho was not pleasant anymore, we didn’t win, we got into a sort of routine, training-training without having fun, it was better for all parties that the collaboration came to an end. If I’m now asked one coach with whom I want to work again, then I say: Mourinho.”
It should be noted that Mourinho is a pretty easy choice given the list of other coaches Hazard has worked with during his professional career: Claude Puel (Lille, 2007-08), Rudi Garcia (Lille, 2008-12), Roberto Di Matteo (2012), Rafael Benítez (2012-13), José Mourinho (2013-2015), Guus Hiddink (2015-16), Antonio Conte (2016-2018), plus Marc Wilmots, Georges Leekens, Dick Advocaat, Franky Vercauteren, and René Vandereycken at international level (where Roberto Martinez is currently in charge). So yeah, José is the obvious choice, especially with the Conte wound still fresh.