Lille's Hazard attracts rich foreign clubs
Eden Hazard's career at Lille may be coming to an end, as the youngster once described by Zinedine Zidane as football's future star attracts interest from rich foreign clubs.
Zidane recommended the 19-year-old Belgium midfielder to Real Madrid last season but Lille managed to retain the promising player in its squad.
Following a difficult start to the season, Hazard's form has helped lift Lille to the top of the French league standings, reportedly attracting interest from the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool in the English Premier League.
Lille president Michel Seydoux has few illusions about being able to hang on to Hazard.
"For the time being we enjoy watching him play," Seydoux said. "Last Sunday the weather was so cold but he was unbelievable and he warmed us up. It seems obvious that such a talented player will receive offers."
Hazard struggled earlier in the season as Lille coach Rudi Garcia benched him three consecutive times, a situation he had never gone through before.
"I wanted to rest him a bit and to make him understand his performances were below par," Garcia said.
Hazard learned from his coach's decision and quickly returned to the form that helped him to be named the best young player in the French league last season.
The versatile midfielder, who is capable of playing on the wings or in the center, put on a superb display in a 2-1 win over Monaco last weekend, setting up his team's two goals with decisive passes. Hazard has been involved in seven of Lille's last 11 goals.
"I kept working at training and I knew I would come back," Hazard said. "I didn't play at my best level in our first matches but with the help of my teammates I recovered."
After starting his season with only one goal in nine matches in all competitions, Hazard was also criticized by Belgian coach George Leekeens, who advised him to work harder at training.
"It was like an electric shock for him and that made him understand a lot of things," former Belgian international Marc Wilmots told L'Equipe newspaper. "He is a proud player."
Hazard said he enjoys the free-flowing attacking football played by Lille.
"We have very fast forwards, our midfielders know how to give very good balls," Hazard said. "We are taking a leaf out the greatest teams and we are enjoying it as much as our fans do."
Lille moved top of the table ahead of second-placed Montpellier on goal difference with the win against Monaco. Both teams have 24 points from 14 games.
Paris Saint-Germain, which plays at Lyon on Sunday, is third with 23 points as just two points separate Lille from eighth-placed Lyon.
Lille could be without Florent Balmont and Pierre-Alain Frau when it travels to Bordeaux on Saturday night after both players missed training earlier this week.
Lyon was defeated 3-0 by Schalke 04 on Wednesday night in the Champions League but advanced to the knockout phase of the tournament for an eighth consecutive time despite the loss.
The seven-time French champions know they will have no room for another mistake against in-form PSG.
"If there is no reaction after such a game, there is a big risk we won't achieve our goals this season," Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas said. "There are two many inadequacies, mentally and collectively."
In Saturday's other matches, it's: Brest vs. Lens, Lorient vs. Rennes; Marseille vs. Montpellier; Monaco vs. Nice; Nancy vs. Saint-Etienne and Valenciennes vs. Arles.
The French league's leadership has changed hands several times this season with big clubs struggling early this season.
Speaking after Saturday's 1-0 over Nice, which sent Montpellier top of the standings for a few hours, Montpellier president Louis Nicollin drew the ire of the French Football Federation when he responded to claims that his club's success was a sign of the league's weakness with a series of profanity-laced insults.
His team's good run could come to an end on Saturday at the Stade Velodrome, where Didier Deschamps' team will try to build on the momentum of its 3-0 win at Spartak Moscow that gave Marseille a spot in the Champions League knockout phase for the first time in 11 years.
"It's been many long years since the club reached this stage of the competition," Deschamps said. "Above all, I'm happy for the players, and the high-quality match they played. It will give us confidence and self-belief for what awaits us."
Auxerre plays Toulouse while Caen hosts Sochaux in Sunday's other matches.