Set to depart in the summer, the promising Belgian attacking midfielder has inevitably attracted a host of clubs' interest. Here are the leading contenders for his signature
By Robin Bairner | French Football Editor
The talents of Lille attacker Eden Hazard are already well documented. At the age of just 20, he has won Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year on two occasions, becoming the first foreign recruit to take the gong. Last season he graduated to winning the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award, having played a vital role in the double won by Rudi Garcia’s side.
Having drawn comparisons with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, the bar has been set high for the talented Belgian, but with luminaries such as Zinedine Zidane having given him the seal of approval, he is a young man already making great strides in his career and living up to the illustrious billing he has been saddled with.
A product of Lille’s youth system – he has played with the northern French club since the age of 14 – the time is approaching where a move is required to prove himself at the top level, allowing him to join the upper echelon of stars in the world game.
"I am ready to move on and make the next step in my career at a bigger club," Hazard was quoted as saying by L'Equipe on Monday.
"I wanted to stay with Lille this term, because I still had things to prove here. I now feel ready to move to a bigger club, though. I am ready to make an impact at a foreign club."
A glut of outfits from all of the continent’s big leagues want the Belgian, but here are the leading contenders to sign one of the emerging lights of the European game.
A team who have been publicly on the fringe of the race to sign Hazard have clearly been doing sterling work in the background, with the Belgian admitting on Tuesday that the Serie A giants had made an approach for him in the summer.
“AC Milan also made me an offer. They proposed that I stayed at Lille and open serious talks at the end of the season,” the exciting young attacker explained in La Gazzetta dello Sport.
The Rossoneri wanted Hazard at the end of this present season from the outset, and it’s possible that they’re still planning a summer raid on Lille for a player who could add youth, energy and further technical ability to their midfield.
Having kept their profile in this move low, Milan could be legitimate dark horses to capture Hazard, as few clubs can boast their reputation, although the perception that Serie A is a weakening league may not aid their cause.
The view from Goal.com's Italian Football Editor Kris Voakes: Of the two Milanese giants, Milan would appear to be second favourites in the tussle for Hazard's signature, but that doesn't automatically make them any less hopeful of making a swoop than are Inter.
The Rossoneri's pursuit of a 'Mr X' in the summer was well known, and while Alberto Aquilani came in on loan from Liverpool to positive effect, more additions could be deemed necessary.
With Mark van Bommel and Massimo Ambrosini ageing rapidly, and Gennaro Gattuso's eye condition ruling him out for the forseeable future, the club will be looking to make at least one high-profile midfield addition in January, and will likely spend again in the same department next summer, with Hazard's qualities matching the job description for one of the available slots in the centre.
Odds on AC Milan being Eden Hazard's next club: 9/1
It seems that whenever there is a bright young talent emerging in France, Arsene Wenger is always considered to be at the front of the queue to make a move. Certainly, Ligue 1 is a favoured destination for the manager to do his shopping, and it was widely reported that the north London outfit wanted Hazard in the summer as a replacement for Cesc Fabregas.
However, in order to capture the 20-year-old, Arsenal would have to smash their transfer record as Lille are known to have placed a valuation of €40 million (£34m) on their prized asset. Wenger is known for his frugal approach when shopping, so such a major swoop would be out of character.
Moreover, the Gunners severely sullied their reputation with the Ligue 1 champions in the summer when they snatched Park Chu-Young from under les Dogues’ noses, and that is a wound still festering.
The view from Goal.com UK correspondent Greg Stobart: Arsene Wenger's scouting network is such that he would have been the first manager of a big European club to know about the prodigy in Lille's ranks, and Arsenal have shown a long-standing interest in signing Hazard.
The Gunners have been continually linked with a move for him over the last two-and-a-half years and are known to have made an enquiry as recently as August when they were preparing to replace the departing Samir Nasri.
The high asking price is believed to be a concern for Wenger, but Arsenal will likely be armed with a transfer kitty in the region of £50m next summer. The two clubs have a working relationship following the transfer of Gervinho in July, while Hazard’s age, ability and technique appeal greatly to Wenger.
Arsenal would need to qualify for the Champions League to win the race for Hazard but his salary demands would fit into the club's wage structure, while he would be guaranteed regular first-team opportunities to fulfil his potential.
That is something that would appeal to Hazard, who hinted last December he favoured a move to Arsenal when he said: “There are teams like Arsenal, where youngsters can grow more easily into the first team and make their mark.”
Odds on Arsenal being Eden Hazard's next club: 7/2
Andre Villas-Boas’ Chelsea side would appear to be the frontrunners from the Premier League to capture Hazard, with Lille academy director Jean-Michel Vandamme declaring the Blues to be the absolute favourites to sign the prodigiously talented player.
“Chelsea has been following him the closest,” he was quoted as saying by ANSA during October.
The Blues have been linked with Hazard since he broke into the Lille first team in 2007, and as they search for a world class playmaker, they may finally settle for the diminutive but robust Belgian.
Although spending at Stamford Bridge has been reigned in comparatively in recent years, Chelsea showed their willingness to flash their cash last January when they captured Fernando Torres from Liverpool, and a similar fee for one of the world’s brightest young talents is unlikely to intimidate owner Roman Abramovich.
The view from Goal.com UK correspondent Greg Stobart: Chelsea have emerged as leading contenders for Hazard's signature as manager Andre Villas-Boas looks to reinvigorate his ageing Blues squad by signing the best young players in the world.
The Stamford Bridge club have scouted Hazard a number of times in 2011 and have reportedly identified him as a leading target for next summer after missing out on Tottenham star Luka Modric in the last transfer window.
Talk of Hazard moving to Chelsea has intensified since Lille's academy director claimed the Premier League side have shown the most interest of any club. “Chelsea has been following him the closest,” Jean-Michel Vandamme said last month.
With the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba in their 30s, Chelsea changed strategy in the summer by signing young players with potential such as Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku. Hazard would fit into their new philosophy and owner Roman Abramovich has shown he is ready to compete with any team in Europe in terms of transfer fee and wages.
There is also a growing link between Chelsea and Belgian football. Teenagers Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois were signed in the summer, while the Blues have shown a strong interest Genk midfielder Kevin De Bruyne. Those relationships could give Chelsea an advantage if they make a move for the biggest Belgian talent of all.
Odds on Chelsea being Eden Hazard's next club: 9/4
Undoubtedly the Italians have been the most open suitors for Hazard, with president Massimo Moratti making clear his interest in the Belgian in May.
“We are not in negotiations about Hazard, but he is definitely an interesting player for us,” he told told La Gazzetta dello Sport, while Javier Zanetti would move to confirm persistent Nerazzurri interest in the young offensive midfielder after the sides met in the Champions League less than a fortnight ago.
“He is a player who I like a lot and I know the club [Inter] are tracking him,” the Argentine confirmed.
Financially, however, Inter are struggling, enticing them to sell leading marksman Samuel Eto’o to Anzhi Mahachkala last summer. Hazard’s transfer value is huge, and should a bidding war commence, they would be stretched to match some of Europe’s richest sides.
The view from Goal.com's Italian Football Editor Kris Voakes: Hazard seems a pretty perfect fit for Inter's needs right now. Occasionally fielding a midfield trio with an average age of 34, the Nerazzurri are struggling to inject any dynamism into their struggling side.
Nigerian youngster Joel Obi has been given a long look-in so far, but is still working his way up the ladder, whereas Hazard would bring an immediate step up in quality and is first-team ready.
The lack of additions to the squad since winning the Champions League in 2010 has been particularly noticeable in the centre of the park, making a midfield purchase their primary objective in January, and Hazard has long been linked with a move to Pinetina.Odds on Inter being Eden Hazard's next club: 7/1
Credited with a long-standing interest in the Ligue 1 Player of the Year, Liverpool’s chances of signing Hazard are in the balance given that they are going through a period of transition and are no longer automatically considered one of the Premier League’s ‘Big Four’.
Sporting director Damien Comolli has strong links with the French game and has recently been quoted as saying that he still holds hope of signing the player, although it must be recognised that for the Reds to attract Hazard, they will certainly need to qualify for the Champions League this season.
In the summer there were reports that Lille’s capture of Joe Cole on loan would allow the Anfield club a first option in the race to sign the Belgian, and though these were promptly denied, it at least shows that there is a relationship between the two clubs that could be played upon when Hazard finally departs northern France.
The view from Goal.com UK correspondent Greg Stobart: Liverpool will be outsiders to land Hazard but director of football Damien Comolli retains an interest having been linked with a move in the last two transfer windows.
Hazard fits in to the philosophy of the club's owners, Fenway Sports Group, to sign the best young talent and they proved over the summer that they are willing to back Comolli and manager Kenny Dalglish in the transfer market.
To have any chance of signing Hazard next summer, Liverpool much achieve a top four finish in the Premier League to qualify for next season's Champions League.
The Reds have a good working relationship with Lille following Joe Cole's loan move to the French side in the summer but suggestions they have negotiated a 'first refusal' on Hazard are believed to be wide of the mark.
Odds on Liverpool being Eden Hazard's next club: 16/1
The side from the French capital is undoubtedly the new superpower of Ligue 1, at least financially, and spent an unprecedented amount of money capturing the likes of Javier Pastore, Jeremy Menez and Salvatore Sirigu in the summer. With the intentions of signing some of the world’s top young talents, Hazard is a natural target given that he’s already proven himself in France and is set for superstar status for years to come.
Despite the promise of great riches, it would appear that the Belgian won’t be making the short journey south. “Paris is magical and I'm definitely attracted to the city,” he confessed. “It's not for now though. I don't want to join another French team and strengthen one of Lille's rivals. That would be the wrong thing to do.”
Such words are unlikely to deter PSG from making contact, however.
The view from Goal.com's French Football Editor Robin Bairner: Paris Saint-Germain have already shown that they're willing to spend lavishly on the game's top young talent, but though they could attract Javier Pastore to France, keeping Hazard in the country will be a far tougher assignment.
The Belgian clearly feels loyalty to Lille, but the only way he's going to attract the recognition he deserves is by departing Ligue 1 to prove himself in one of the leagues that are currently amongst Europe's best.
When les Parisiens snaffled Pastore last summer, they were reportedly able to outbid Chelsea's wage offer to the Argentine, but money alone is unlikely to be able to keep the 20-year-old in France. There are other paths open to Hazard, and it seems likely that he will choose one of those, no matter how PSG perform this season.
Odds on PSG being Eden Hazard's next club: 4/1
There is no club in world football as prestigious or as glamorous as the Spanish giants, so when they are credited with an interest in you, it’s not something that is taken lightly. Los Blancos have long been associated with Hazard for several years, and Zinedine Zidane, their director of football, is a known long-term admirer of the Belgian.
Around this time last year, he was reportedly ready to advise the capital side to move, and in the summer he described the 20-year-old as a “great player”, albeit on this occasion touting him for a switch to Juventus.
With John Bico, Hazard’s agent, having said that there is still interest coming from the Santiago Bernabeu, though he was quick to state that Zizou’s influence will not be allowed to solely sway his client’s decision.
In the past, the 20-year-old has been coy on such a big move, stating that he doesn’t want to be consigned to the bench for a prolonged period, but that was a year ago, and his star has risen significantly since then.
The view from Goal.com's Spanish Football Editor Ben Hayward: "I would take Eden Hazard to Real Madrid with my eyes closed," said Zinedine Zidane in May 2009. That ringing recommendation saw the Belgian youngster strongly tipped to make the move to the Santiago Bernabeu, but two-and-a-half years later, he still isn't here.
Zidane is now sporting director at his former club and has recommended Hazard to coach Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese's priority has been the first team as he looks to assemble a squad capable of challenging Barcelona in the short term, but Hazard is now old enough - and looks good enough - to feature in the group and his signing would continue a policy of bringing in talented young players to ensure a bright future for the capital club over the next decade.
Earlier this summer, Zidane sweet-talked former Lens defender Raphael Varane into a move to Madrid after personally visiting the player in a charm offensive designed to deter other interested parties and swing a transfer in his club's favour. And his next trip could be to Lille.
Odds on Real Madrid being Eden Hazard's next club: 7/2
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