Eden Hazard pays tribute to ‘great’ Rafa Benitez despite JT misgivings

Eden Hazard has sprung to the defence of former coach Rafa Benitez after Chelsea captain John Terry took a swipe at the Spaniard after the Blues clinched the Premier League title last weekend.

Terry has played in every minute of every game of this Premier League season so far and in the aftermath of Chelsea’s title celebrations last week, said: “One person said I couldn’t play twice in a week. He knows who he is. I’m still here, still fighting.”

Benitez had dropped the captain during his spell as Chelsea coach, when he replaced Roberto Di Matteo in November 2012 when the side was in fifth place in the Premier League.

Benitez’s spell at Stamford Bridge was frosty, with fans protesting his appointment given his previous spell with Liverpool.

Chelsea under Benitez ended up third in the Premier League and won the Europa League, and still no Chelsea player publicly supported the Spanish manager.

Hazard has become the first. “He’s a great coach,” said the winger. “He won everywhere he went. His view is always to play good football. In terms of the game, I appreciated that. We didn’t win that much in his time at Chelsea, but we did win the Europa League at least.”

Hazard was in his debut season at Stamford Bridge, and he has revealed he only agreed to join the club after they won the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich on penalties.

“In the beginning, I didn’t want to go to Chelsea because I wanted to play the Champions League and they were sixth in the league,” he said. “I was convinced when they won the Champions League.”

Hazard was talking to French magazine So Foot, and the Premier League Player of the Year also thanked current coach Jose Mourinho for allowing him to play his natural game.

“He’s the one who gives me the most freedom, he understands how to get the best from his players. He knows which players need a word and who doesn’t,” he added. “He gives an image of someone cold, but he’s very nice.”

Mourinho last week backed Hazard’s claims to become the best player in the world, and had a dig at the entourages behind the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“I also believe that behind phenomenal players like Ronaldo or Messi there’s something close to an organised political campaign,” the coach said. “And Hazard doesn’t have that; he’s a 23-year-old boy who plays in a club where there isn’t a culture of ‘best in the world’.”

Some may argue Hazard will never become a 40-goal-a-season man if he continues to place dribbling ahead of scoring, as he does at the moment.

“People pay to see us play, so I have to make them happy,” Hazard said. “Often, a dribble brings more joy than a goal.

“That’s when the people stand up to applaud. It’s part of my reflex: People want the show, they pay for it. You’re an actor. So let’s bring them pleasure.

“When I start a match, I tell myself: ‘I have to dribble. Today isn’t the day to score, it’s the day to dribble.’ This is my main quality.”

And his message to defenders who think roughing him up will work is a simple one: It won’t.

“I don’t want to lose my energy by being stressed at the tackles I receive. My answer is to score goals and to go past the guy nicely. It’s like: ‘Okay, you want to play that game? I will play this other game.’ That’s my strength.”


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