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"Hazard must be given the keys... if not he will leave Real Madrid"

Credited as the man who discovered Eden Hazard, Jean-Michel Vandamme has given his take on the Belgian's current situation at Real Madrid and what needs to happen for him to succeed at the Bernabéu.

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Eden Hazard in action for Real Madrid.
JAVIER GANDUL DIARIO AS

Jean-Michel Vandamme is considered as the man who discovered Eden Hazard. The 63-year-old returned to Lille as the director of the youth academy a few months ago, the club where he has spent most of his career -- including 40 years as a coach as well as several years working in various positions within the youth setup.

In 2005, he was charged with integrating a 14-year-old Eden Hazard into the Los Mastines training system and has followed the Belgian midfielder’s development throughout his career. As such, it’s safe to say he knows the player better than most. In 2011, at just 20 years old, Hazard, along with several other of his Lille academy peers, was part of the team that secured the club’s first league title since 1954. Lille went on to lift last season’s Ligue 1 trophy, although with a very different-looking team to the one that scooped the title in 2011.

Vandamme on Hazard’s early development

"That [2011] team had 50 percent homegrown players. Now we have won another Ligue 1, but there was hardly anyone from the academy,” says Vandamme, who, after working at Club Brugges, has returned to Lille to revitalize one of the most important youth academies in Europe. Apart from Hazard, other talents to have emerged from the Lille academy in recent decades include Franck Ribery, Benoît Cheyrou, Jean Makoun, Yphan Cabaye, Mathieu Debuchy, Adil Rami, Idrissa Gueye, Lucas Digne, Divock Origi and Benjamin Pavard.

"Eden was from La Louviere, on the Belgian side of the border but very close to here," recalls Vandamme. "He came to our academy when he was 14 years old, he was a very small and thin boy who at first did not seem to stand out much.

“But he had one very important thing: a footballing brain. More or less, we got him out of his shell and in a few years he became technically better and faster than anyone. At 15, he had to be stopped, because he was beginning to gain muscle and could have injured himself. At 17, when he debuted with the first team, many of us here thought he was going to become one of the best players in the world.”

Eden Hazard in his Lille days.

Eden Hazard in his Lille days.

Can Hazard still succeed at Real Madrid?

And without a doubt, the ex-Chelsea star was one of the world’s best players when he signed for Real Madrid in June 2019. But since his arrival at the Bernabéu, he has been going through the most difficult moment of his career, which has been defined by a constant run of injuries and poor form on the pitch. Having played almost two and a half years with Los Blancos, is there still a chance for the 30-year-old to succeed in white?

Vandamme gives his verdict: "He has the talent. I'm sure he can still succeed at Real Madrid. The issue with Hazard is that he needs to feel like a leader, but I'm not talking about a leader in the dressing room, but above all a leader in a technical sense. They must realize that that is an important mechanism of his game. Eden must be given the keys to the game. He needs that. If not, he will end up leaving Madrid.”

"It is not a question of forcing [Carlo] Ancelotti or another coach to change the system for him. In Belgium, Hazard continues to perform and he does it together with another very important player like [Kevin] De Bruyne,” adds the Lille academy director.

“They do not take space away but complement each other. I don't know why that can't happen to him at Madrid, it shouldn't be a problem because there are teammates of his, like Karim Benzema, who are perfect to compliment him. They can get a lot out of each other.”

Hazard set for Clásico return

Having missed Madrid’s last two games against Athletic Bilbao and Shakhtar Donetsk due to a muscular injury, Hazard could return to Ancelotti’s squad for Sunday’s all-important Clásico against Barcelona, although the Italian coach has not started the Belgian winger in the last three league games that he has been available. Hazard has featured on eight occasions for Madrid this season across all competitions, registering just one assist and yet to find the net this season.