Sunday 01 July 2018, 09:05

Captain Hazard intent on having fun

  • Relaxed in the role though not a natural leader, Eden Hazard talks captaincy

  • For Hazard and Belgium, having fun is an integral part of performing well

  • The Red Devils take on Japan in the Round of 16

By Simon Massart with Belgium

Does the man make the job or the job make the man?

Though a natural team player, Eden Hazard never aspired to the Belgium team captain’s armband entrusted to him by Marc Wilmots in June 2015, an appointment approved by Roberto Martinez when he took over as coach in September 2016. The skilful forward nevertheless took the job on with a mixture of detachment and responsibility, which also happens to be the way he approaches life.

“He never really enjoys addressing the team on the pitch or in the changing room,” explained his younger brother Thorgan. “His feet are still his favourite way of expressing himself, though his new role means he has to have an even closer relationship with the team.”

Though the older Hazard has taken time to grow into the role, the change in him is apparent. No longer content just to bring his good humour, jokes and talent to the team, his goal now is to ensure the Red Devils are as tightly knit as they can be and to make himself heard if the occasion demands, objectives that have been brought into even sharper focus since the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ got underway.

An example of that came in the match against Panama. Disappointed at Romelu Lukaku’s lack of involvement in the first half, Hazard made sure he got the message across to the striker. “I didn’t want to say that I was well within my rights to confront him, because I’m not always right, but I think we saw a different Romelu in the second half with his three goals,” said the skipper with a smile.

“I don’t tend to talk a lot, but if I have to then I’ll do it,” continued Hazard, who is as at ease with the ball at his feet as he is with his team-mates. Though outwardly a carefree character, the Belgium captain has great emotional intelligence and knows every member of the squad inside out. “There are some players you can be a little more direct with and others you have to approach in a different way,” explained the Chelsea player.

A father of three at the age of 27, he continues to nurture his inner child. Leading by example, Hazard encapsulates perhaps better than anyone the ability of this Belgium side to have fun on and off the pitch, while continuing to achieve high levels of performance. Since he pulled on the armband, they have lost just four games and won 26, scoring a total of 102 goals along the way.

Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku of Belgium look on

“My football has always been about playing, and I think that shows,” he explained. “That’s one of my strengths and I’ve built my career on that. My wife sometimes feels she has four children in the house,” he added with a laugh. The Red Devils have shown that sense of fun and joy since the start of Russia 2018, much to the satisfaction of Martinez, who often says that his players need to enjoy themselves on the pitch to be at their best.

Japan have made it clear they intend to attack rather than thwart the Belgians when the two sides meet in the Round of 16 on Monday, which may well allow the men in red the kind of space they revel in. If so, it would provide their skipper with the perfect opportunity to lead by example again.