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Roberto Martinez loving ‘real captain, real leader’ Eden Hazard

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The coach is bigging-up his best player on the eve of epic Brazil match

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Belgium v Japan: Round of 16 - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images

You never know how the captain’s armband will affect a player. Some rise to the opportunity and become magnificent — that’s John Terry. Some carry on just as before — that’s pretty much Gary Cahill. And some kinda disappear — Wayne Rooney’s form dropped off the edge of the world when Louis van Gaal gave him the job.

So it was always going to be interesting when Roberto Martinez elected to make Eden Hazard Belgium’s next captain. Eden has the skill, of course, and the seniority. But if there’s been a quibble about him at Chelsea it’s that he occasionally appears to pick his moments and matches to work hard. That’s not something a captain can do and retain the respect of his team.

Not to worry. Hazard has turned out to be one of those guys who rises to the opportunity and becomes magnificent. He’s even become a vocal leader from someone who merely leads by example, to the point of giving Romelu Lukaku an earful when he thought the striker was loafing in the first half of Belgium’s opener against Panama (Lukaku responded by scoring twice in the next game).

Hazard has lived up to expectations with an excellent World Cup thus far, not only scoring twice with an assist in four matches, but also working hard without the ball. He’s been named Man of the Match in two of Belgium’s four games, including the rousing 3-2 comeback against Japan in the Round of 16.

Now, on the eve of what might be the biggest game of his career, the quarterfinal against favorites Brazil, he’s come in for some lavish praise from his coach, Roberto Martinez.

“He’s been a real captain, a real leader and someone who’s always been himself. What you love about his temperament is that whatever the score, opponent, moment, he’s always available to get the ball and be decisive.

”His level of the play has been the highest, he’s been decisive in attack, a leader in what the group needs to achieve. We are a team and in international football that [being a team] is difficult. He’s played a massive part as captain of this group.

”You see a lot of the captain through the team. When you see Hazard enjoying his football, he makes it a beautiful sport, he puts a smile on the face.”

-Roberto Martinez; source: Omnisport

Hazard’s mentality, his level of effort and commitment have not always been this highly regarding, despite his considerable talents and success on the pitch. But this is the new mature Hazard, now in his late 20s, ready to lead in every sense of the word.

At Chelsea, Hazard may not ever get the armband officially. Gary Cahill has it now and César Azpilicueta waits in the wings. But the best Chelsea teams over the past couple decades were full of captains and leaders, and that sort of quality has been lacking recently. Eden growing into this role for club as well as country would be a more than welcome development.

Before we worry about any of that, or Hazard’s future at Chelsea for that matter, it’s time to make an appointment with a TV or computer screen for Brazil vs. Belgium, Friday at 1900 hours, London time.