Having reached the impressive total of 100 Chelsea appearances last weekend, Eden Hazard says he thrives on playing so many games.
The Belgian signed for the Blues in the summer of 2012, moving from Lille to London as one of the brightest young talents in world football. It didn’t take long for the winger to showcase his ability in a Chelsea shirt; within six minutes of his Premier League debut at Wigan he had laid on a glorious assist for Branislav Ivanovic and earned a penalty converted by Frank Lampard. Unsurprisingly, it is that debut which burns brightest in Hazard’s mind when asked to single out one Chelsea highlight, the beginning of, as he puts it, ‘a new situation and a new life for me’.
Now, just over 18 months later, and three-quarters of the way through his second season at Stamford Bridge, the 23-year-old has reached a century of Chelsea games. As he reflects on that extraordinary achievement, Hazard takes a moment to respond.
‘One hundred games,’ he contemplates, before breaking into a smile. ‘It’s not bad, is it?!’
‘I’m in very good condition and I think I perform better when I keep on playing lots of games consecutively. It was the same in France. During my four years at Lille I played a lot of games too.
‘I want to play all the time because being on the pitch gives me enormous pleasure; I know I can make a difference for my teammates and for the fans.’
The incredible speed with which Hazard has racked up 100 Chelsea appearances is testament to the progress we make in almost every competition we enter. There is also international duty to factor in, and a little over 48 hours after returning from Brussels, where our star winger played 28 minutes of Belgium’s draw with Ivory Coast, he is expected to take to the field again for the clash with Spurs in Saturday’s late kick-off.
‘It’s not important that we don’t have much time to prepare,’ says the man who has been involved – almost always from the start – in every Chelsea game since 6 November. ‘When you train you do recovery work because you need to be fresh for the game. We don’t need to do hard training sessions every day; just recovery work and then also be mentally ready.
‘We know how important the game is for us and for the fans. If we win then we stay at the top and with nine games left after that it is good for our concentration. We want to continue like this. There is pressure for both teams but at home we are very strong and I hope we can keep that going tomorrow and get the three points.’
Hazard has now called England home for over 18 months. He lives closer to the training ground at Cobham than to the Bridge, an arrangement that clearly suits him and his young family.
‘I don’t go in to London every day – I like staying at home with my family and my kids – but it’s a great city and I really enjoy it when I’m there. It’s a nice place to be with my family. Just the weather is not the best but it’s the same in Lille!’
And what of the footballing cultures that define the two countries positioned on either side of the Channel?
‘It’s different because in France it was just about football. Now the football is a story in the life of people in England. All the people want to come to the stadium to see the game.
‘It’s amazing because it doesn’t matter if you win or if you lose, the fans support you and that’s a great feeling. I hope to score more goals and I will try to carry on making a difference.’
Off the pitch, Hazard was last week turned into a Simpsons character after the club announced a new collaboration with the iconic animated TV series. As a long-time fan of the show, he is thrilled with his new companion.
‘When I was young, before going to sleep every day I would watch the Simpsons and now I have my own face,’ he laughs. ‘It’s great!’
‘My Simpson cut-out is in my home and my kids, who also love the show, say “Papa, what are you doing there?” It’s really nice.’