“It’s a little bit weird for me,” Chelsea starlet Eden Hazard admitted to FIFA.com with an impish smile, stifling a chuckle. “Chelsea won the Champions League last year and I wasn’t even part of the team yet, so it’s like I’m taking advantage of their hard work and success by being here.”
No one could accuse the Belgian of riding anyone’s coattails in the Blues’ comprehensive 3-1 hammering of Mexican side Monterrey in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final. Alongside Spanish FIFA World Cup™ winners Fernando Torres and Juan Mata, and Brazilian starlet Oscar in the starting XI, Hazard was at the heart of Chelsea’s most sizzling forays forward.
He set up the second goal for Torres and caused general havoc, popping up on both flanks to torment his poor Mexican markers.
“It’s great to start a tournament like this,” Hazard said with a cheeky grin, looking up and down the corridors at Yokohama’s International Stadium, winking at familiar reporters and giving thumbs-up. A youngster with tremendous confidence, Hazard is not shy in the sharp glare of the media. While the likes of team-mates Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole coolly refused interviews, Hazard lapped up the limelight. “I have no complaints about the way we played tonight. The most important thing is getting the result, and that’s what we did.”
Hazard was a target for all the big European clubs this summer, having been voted top player in France's top-flight for two seasons running during his time with Lille. He teased the media on Twitter, doing a public dance with Manchester United and City before finally signing with Chelsea. And it’s a decision he’s not regretted, despite the unrest at Stamford Bridge that followed the recent sacking of Roberto Di Matteo, the arrival of current coach Rafael Benitez, and the team’s early exit from the UEFA Champions League.
“I couldn’t be happier to be a part of Chelsea Football Club,” he said, suddenly serious and focused on his answers. “Every day I get to play with some great warriors,” he went on in French, his English not quite at interview-grade yet. “The fans are incredible at the club. The English Premier League is a big league with big games. It’s exactly where I want to be.”
And even though he wasn’t a part of the side that hoisted the Champions League trophy last season, Hazard considers himself true Blue now. “I’m a Chelsea player and I am going to do everything I can to win the trophy here in Japan and bring it back to Stamford Bridge.”
The player is part of perhaps the most talented generation of Belgian footballers since the likes of Enzo Scifo and Jan Cuelemans reached the FIFA World Cup semi-finals in 1986. He rolls his eyes when asked about his current national team, which boasts the likes of Vincent Kompany and Marouane Fellaini. “We still need to prove we’re worthy of all the cheers we’re getting by reaching the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.”
In the meantime, Hazard is totally focused on the job at hand and a FIFA Club World Cup final date on Sunday with the champions of South America, Corinthians of Brazil. “We did what we needed to do tonight and that’s a start,” he said. “Now we can have a rest, which we need because we’ve played a lot of games recently and done a lot of travel. Sunday will be a tough game, and we need to make sure that we get the physical and mental preparations right.
“Everybody knows the name ‘Corinthians'," Hazard added, looking ahead to the next interview, as impatient as any other 21-year-old. “It’s a big name in football. They’re a Brazilian team, so they’ll be tough and difficult to play. We will watch the videos and find their weaknesses and strengths, and we’ll be ready.”