Eden Hazard is firing at Chelsea thanks to one manby Andy Dillon / 02 October 2018, 08:28Tweet
English football's biggest clubs longed to bring Zinedine Zidane to the Premier League but he was always just out of reach.
It will remain one of the great untold stories because there will never be a talent like his. He was unique.
Yet Maurizio Sarri is in the process of delivering the next best thing to the Premier League - ‘Zidane Light’ in the shape of a fully functioning and happy Eden Hazard.
Head coach Sarri previously worked in banking before coaching. He should try PR when he leaves Chelsea.
Nobody has managed to make the blessed little Belgian fire so brightly and look so comfortable as the chain-smoking Italian who loves Blue Note jazz and lets his players eat tomato ketchup.
And just like the world of Public Relations, the formula is so simple it’s brilliant.
Sarri’s predecessors Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho tried to mould Hazard in their own image: industrial, grey and square-shouldered.
Hazard was ordered to track back and defend, to shackle his every natural instinct to fly free at the opposition. Now at last Sarri has arrived to open the birdcage on English’s football’s white dove.
Anybody who has paid for a ticket to watch a Chelsea team featuring Hazard can see that the boy is not cut for defending; that his biggest strength is being allowed to roam the turf unhindered, to keep out of his own half.
Sarri has gone public with this sentiment and it is already paying enormous dividends. Sarri has erected a ‘keep out’ sign on the halfway line as far as Hazard is concerned and ordered the midfielder to stay as close to the opposition goal as he likes.
The result is five goals in four games and Hazard gliding around a football pitch with the agility of a ballerina and the accuracy of a sniper.
Even when he is not scoring he is a pleasure to watch simply for the artistry in his boots.
All of which begs the question why did Mourinho and Conte not see this?
Why did they insist on going against the grain, weakening Chelsea’s offensive qualities and causing friction in the dressing room?
Makes you think that maybe you don’t need to be that clever to be a manager after all. Sarri, who has clear interests outside of work, is laid-back - ‘carefree’ in fact as the famous Chelsea terrace anthem goes.
It is ultimately the personality of a coach that counts. After all, it is difficult to tell any top level player how to trap a ball or take a free kick. Especially when the manager is a former banker.
That was Mourinho’s problem. He didn’t make the grade as a player but thought and still thinks he can lecture the top stars on how to do the technical part of their jobs.
Conte was a highly accomplished midfielder but not in the same style as Hazard and certainly not in the same league as Zidane. Perhaps it was envy that compelled him to drive a wedge between him and Chelsea’s best player.
Sarri is the first manager in a long time who openly admits he is not fit to lace Hazard’s boots but has hit upon the idea to let him play to his strengths in a simple but inspired piece of man-management.
It’s a bit like when one of your kids looks up from a colouring book and provides the answer to a problem that has got everyone at the office flummoxed.
Sarri has strolled in from the outside world and into the self-absorbed sphere of football where too many people conceive the game to be far more complicated than it actually is.
As a result the Italian’s outrageous prediction that ‘Hazard can score 40 goals a season’ suddenly does not look so ludicrous.
Hazard will flower more and more and we will witness even more breathtaking skill from the little man. He may even make it to the top of the tree as the world’s best player in the near future.
It is unlikely Hazard will ever be considered along the lines of his great hero Zidane but if he only gets some of the way then English football will be better for it.