Eden Hazard is the latest player to discuss his footballing journey, from his early days growing up in Belgium to collecting team and individual honours at Chelsea, via a successful spell in France.
The Belgian discusses a Double-winning season in France and a magical Chelsea debut, as well as the best performance of his career to date.
I started playing football at a very early age. My godfather was the manager of my village team and the bottom of my garden was right next to the pitch. I was watching them play from my garden and I asked my dad if I could go and join in, and he said yes. I was four or five and they were around eight or nine, so I went and trained with them and I was quite good, so my godfather said to my dad he felt I could do something in football.
I moved to Lille at 14 but I’d been training with them since I was 12. I would go and play tournaments at first but when I was 14 I said to my dad I needed to go there permanently. My mum and dad wanted me to stay because I was still very young, so I stayed there during the week and then went home at weekends. I was so happy to play there because Lille, at that time, had one of the best academies in France. When I was 15 I started training with the first team, so when I look back at those days it was very good because I met my best friends there and they are still my best friends now. I was 16 when I made my first-team debut for Lille.
In 2010/11 Lille won the Double, which was unbelievable. The last time Lille had won the league was in 1954. When the season starts you hope you can finish fourth or fifth because PSG, Marseille, Monaco are better teams, but when the season started we realised we were a bit special. The goalkeeper, Mickael Landreau, was amazing. We had Moussa Sow up front who scored 25 goals, I was there with Gervinho who was on fire. Player by player, we had maybe the best team in France. For the fans it was special because they’d been waiting for so long. Then to win the cup as well was amazing. We didn’t play a great game in the final, it was 0-0 and then at the end we scored a free-kick from nowhere. I won the best player in France for the second year in a row but it wasn’t about individual prizes, collectively we were brilliant. The manager, Rudi Garcia, was great, and it’s special when you win something with the team you started out at.
A new country, a new league
My Premier League debut against Wigan was amazing. When you start you don’t expect that because you’re thinking it’s a new league, different and maybe it’s going to be hard. But after eight minutes I gave the ball to Branislav Ivanovic, who scored, and then I won a penalty. All through that pre-season I’d been feeling good and my relationship with the players was good which gave me the confidence to play. Then on the pitch I just tried to do what I could.
I won my first Premier League with Chelsea in 2014/15 and I was named PFA and FWA Player of the Year. It was the perfect season, with collective trophies and individual trophies. It was brilliant. Didier Drogba came back to Chelsea to help us, we won a lot of games, we won the League Cup and we scored a lot of goals. We really enjoyed ourselves and that’s why we were champions.
We were champions again in 2016/17. The feeling was the same but the way we won it was fantastic because at the start of the season we had some problems. We lost against Arsenal and Liverpool and then completely changed the system. We went on an unbelievable run of winning games and at the end of the season you’re just happy to win. For the manager, Antonio Conte, it was special to win the title in his first season.
All the managers I’ve played for have given me something. From when I started with Claude Puel at Lille, to now with Maurizio Sarri. They all see football in different ways which is why I’m the player I am. They have all given me important advice. Jose Mourinho was special, but the way Sarri and Garcia like to play is more like my philosophy of football, but they’ve all given me a lot.
The world stage
My debut for Belgium was special. I was 17 but 10 years ago it was easier to play because the team wasn’t as strong. When you start to play football you always dream of playing for your country. I remember being in my car and the phone was ringing. I answered and it was the manager telling me I had to go and meet up with the squad the next day. I thought it was a joke.
I’ve played at three major tournaments with Belgium but the World Cup last summer was an unbelievable experience. For me personally, the players and the fans we achieved something special in reaching the semi-finals. In 1986 Belgium finished fourth, which everybody in the country was talking about, but we finished third. The celebrations in Brussels, when we came back from Russia, are why we play football. There was such a strong bond between the players and fans and they were so happy because we did something great.
I think the win against Brazil in the quarter-finals was the best performance of my career. But what I would like to say about that game is I didn’t score or make an assist, because people always talking about me scoring, but we played as a team and to beat Brazil is always hard. It’s a huge country and they’ve won five World Cups but our whole team played a fantastic game and those memories will stay with me forever.
Now I play with my younger brother, Thorgan, in the national team. The feeling is great. Kylian might get there one day as well but to have two brothers in the same team is rare. It’s special for us, but mainly for our parents. We just enjoy playing together, like we did 20 years ago in the garden. We just want to make our family happy and see what we can do. There was one game when we both scored. The first time he played I was injured, but when we are on the pitch together it’s a great feeling. It wasn’t easy at the beginning of his career because he’s my brother but he’s doing well and I’m proud of what he’s achieved.