In the garden of Eden, where it all began for Hazard
Now Belgium’s captain, Eden Hazard took his first steps in football on the pitch in the town of Braine-le-Comte which he accessed by sliding under a fence in his back garden.football Updated: Jun 08, 2016 15:46 IST
Now Belgium’s captain, Eden Hazard took his first steps in football on the pitch in the town of Braine-le-Comte which he accessed by sliding under a fence in his back garden.
Only a few bushes separate the modest abode where Eden and his three younger brothers grew up from the home ground of Stade Brainois, 40 kilometres south of Brussels in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium.
As soon as he was old enough to start playing the game, Hazard would pass under the fence to go for a kickabout.
“Eden was five. He was too small to climb over the wooden fence so he found a gap to slide under and then onto the football pitch,” his father Thierry told AFP.
Between the age of five and 10, Eden played for a club which has seen three generations of the Hazard family pass through it -- from the grandfather Francis, a founding member of Stade Brainois in 1969, to dad Thierry, who played in the Belgian second division and is now the team’s coach, and on to Eden.
His three brothers also turned out for the team, including Thorgan, who is now with German giants Borussia Mönchengladbach.
If Eden, now 25, has become a football icon, he owes his status in large part to the hundreds of hours spent kicking a ball on the field next to his own garden.
“There were no swings in the Hazard’s garden, only footballs. Eden had his but there were also the balls that the Braine players clumsily booted over the fence,” said club director Pascal Delmoitiez.
He witnessed the blooming of Eden and “understood rapidly that the lad had something more than the others”.
“In the mid-1990s (when Eden was six or seven), when the grass of the pitch had just been resown, I remember having to tell off a boy who was playing on it when he wasn’t supposed to,” said Delmoitiez.
“I saw it was Eden who, with his bare feet from the edge of the box, was systematically putting the ball into the top corner of the net. I was astounded by this kid who was knee high to a grasshopper.”
The club’s president Alain Pauly recalls that everyone in Braine was quickly convinced that little Eden would become great.
“My son, who was coaching the five to six-year-olds, came looking for me after training and said to me: ‘Dad, we have a gifted kid.’ It was Eden.”
The player’s talent was clear for all to see. In every tournament, even up against prestigious teams from abroad, he was regularly named the best player.
“You needed to be blind to not realise his qualities,” added Thierry Hazard.
“But we told him not to dream too much about becoming a professional. You never know what can happen to you in life. I did’t want him to fall from a great height.”
Up to the age of 10, Eden treated the locals at Stade Brainois, whose directors to this day regret the fact the club never received any compensation for helping develop the current Chelsea star.
Clubs are only entitled to compensation for players after the age of 10, the age Eden had when he left Braine-le-Comte for second-tier club Tubize.
The rest is history -- Hazard joined the academy of Lille, just across the border in France, at the age of 14 and made his debut in Ligue 1 at 16.
Now starring in the Premier League and for his country, who are among the favourites to win Euro 2016, Eden has nevertheless made a promise with his three brothers.
Along with Thorgan, 23, Kylian, who at 20 is with Ujpest in Hungary, and 12-year-old Ethan, he has promised that the Hazard boys will all run out together one day for their hometown team, on the field next to the garden of Eden.