Conte challenges Eden Hazard to match Ronaldo, Messi
Antonio Conte is high on Eden Hazard. Very high.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
With the Belgian wizard now back to full fitness following ankle surgery in the summer, Hazard whipped in a delightful cross for Alvaro Morata to head home as he played a pivotal role in Chelsea’s impressive 2-1 win away at Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League in midweek.
This doesn’t surprise Conte. At all.
Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s monster clash with title rivals Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) the Italian manager said he believes he can help Hazard reach the same levels as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
“In every game he finds a way to be decisive: to score or to make an assist for a team-mate. I love this from him, and I ask it of him because, [when it comes to] a player with his talent, it’s important to ask him to be decisive every game. If God gives you this talent, you must exploit it. My task is to try and push him to be decisive in every moment, in every game,” Conte said.
“Sometimes, if Eden scores one goal, he’s happy and then, if there is another situation, he prefers to make an assist rather than scoring twice. I see with Ronaldo that if he scores once, he wants two, three, four. It’s the same for Messi. So, yes, Eden can improve. It’s not about being selfish. I don’t like selfish players. I like players who are used to thinking about the team and are used to thinking about ‘us’, not ‘me’. Eden is not selfish. He’s a player who loves to play football. I like this behavior, this attitude. But, for sure, I like to repeat to him that in every game he must be decisive.”
So, the challenge is for Hazard to be selfish and raise his game to the same levels of Ronaldo and Messi. Doing so in the Premier League could be difficult, purely from goals and assists output, but Hazard’s impact on his Chelsea team can be the same, and has been the same, as the star duo Conte is challenging him to match.
Hazard is still just 26 years old and he is approaching his prime. He scored 14 goals in 34 PL appearances last season, his best-ever return in the PL where his previous best was 14 goals in each of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns.
The Belgian winger was voted as the PFA Player of the Year in 2014-15 and he recaptured that form last season to lead Chelsea to another Premier League title.
His next challenge is to lead Chelsea to European glory under Conte and the Italian manager knows he can do it. For Conte, and Chelsea’s fans, the fact that Hazard is back on board will make them believe anything is possible, especially given his burgeoning relationship with Alvaro Morata.