Antonio Conte had a habit of calling Eden Hazard “a complete player”. José Mourinho alternated between encouraging Hazard to grow and calling him one of the three best players in the game.
Maurizio Sarri is setting the bar higher. He thinks Hazard can be the very best in the game.
“Hazard, technically, is really one of the best in Europe in this moment, I think. He has to work from the physical point of view, of course.”
Eden yielded great success in his first club Lille as a central attacking midfielder. However, at Chelsea he transitioned to the left wing, locking down that slot in our starting eleven for ages to come. A new role, perhaps back to the centre of our attack but closer to the goal, could be in his horizon as hinted by Sarri.
”In the last five years, Cristiano [Ronaldo] has played like a striker. [Lionel] Messi like a striker, Eden sometimes like a winger. Eden can improve. We are talking about one of the most important players in Europe now but, in my opinion, he can improve more.”
The bid here is to keep improving Eden. At 27 years old, some could say he’s already reached his peak. But as other greats have showed, you can’t count them out so early. And if he works hard enough, he can even topple them.
”He can be the first. It depends on him. The best for technical skill, the best for scoring, but I think it depends only on him. On his mind.”
Best for technical skill? Check. Best for scoring? We hope so! And there’s good reason for him to go on about Messi and Ronaldo drifting towards the centre of the pitch as their careers progressed.
Sarri is the coach who took diminutive 1.69 m (5’ 5”) Dries Mertens, a fellow Belgian winger with 12 goals-a-season, and turned him into a 34-goal monster centre-forward at Napoli after Gonzalo Higuain left for Juventus. No wonder he was one of the 23 men called up to represent the Red Devils in the World Cup, helping reach their best place ever in the tournament with a third-place finish
While we know how Hazard felt about playing No.9 for Conte last season — it wasn’t pretty — that was a completely different role than what Mertens used to play for Sarri and Hazard might theoretically play one day. Still, if Sarri is actually thinking about trying it again, he may have to do some convincing. But at least he has one thing on his side — he’s proven he can make it work.
Revealed: How Chelsea made sure Hazard has started another season in blue and kept him happy even though he fears his Real Madrid dream may have died #cfc https://t.co/kU2wtemMNb— Matt Law (@Matt_Law_DT) August 17, 2018
Actually, make that two things. The second is that he’s not worried about Real Madrid, phantom €200m bids and losing Eden this season. Not after having that face-to-face he wanted.
“Of course, I was concerned about this problem. The first time I spoke to him, I was sure that he would stay. So I was concerned for 20 days, no more. Chelsea are one of the most important clubs in Europe.”
”I think one of the most important clubs in Europe cannot sell an important player without the possibility of buying a player on the same level.”
-Maurizio Sarri; Source: ESPN
Hazard may be safely in the fold, but Sarri sounds like he has a long way to go before he has his squad figured out. On Friday, he talked about only having had ten days to work with his players, and he repeated that it will take a couple of months before he has the team where he wants it.
We don’t know what the final product will look like. But it’s ridiculously tantalising to think of him transforming Eden Hazard into a 30-goal man, soaring to the same scoring heights as Messi and Ronaldo. Maybe with that, we’ll have the man to take that coveted
Ballon d’Or clunkily named The Best FIFA Men’s Player award from extraterrestrial grasp.