An examination of rumored Manchester United transfer target Eden Hazard

MILAN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 02: Eden Hazard of LOSC Lille Metropole during the UEFA Champions League, group B match between FC Internazionale Milano and LOSC Lille Metropole at Giuseppe Meazza Stadium on November 2, 2011 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Last Thursday, Sam posted a FanShot that linked some quotes from Manchester United first-team coach Rene Meulensteen about Lille star Eden Hazard. This sparked the predictable speculation that the Belgian attacker might be on his way to Old Trafford in the summer. The comments from Meulensteen were a bit odd because United are typically quite stealth in their transfer dealings. As journalist Andy Mitten pointed out a few weeks back, it's usually best to expect the unexpected in regards to United's signings. Perhaps though -- in a more public approach than usual -- Hazard is being lined up as one of dozen or so players that United are interested in and these comments from Meulensteen may be part of some sort of grand courtship plan. I haven't a clue to be honest. I can hope though.

Here is what Meulensteen had to say in regards to manager Sir Alex Ferguson being spotted recently at a Lille match:

"The manager wanted to see Hazard by himself. That's a sign he thinks it's an interesting player. We talked a lot about him. For a club it's important that you keep refreshing your squad. Hazard is a special talent, but it always takes a while. As [an] example, we followed David de Gea for a long time before we got him. Ferguson wants to know the character of the player. Because of that he's going to look himself for players. Hazard is 'the man' at Lille. Ferguson wanted to see if that had an influence on him."

- Meulensteen | Source: Voetbal International

It's strongly been speculated that Hazard is keen on a move to the Premier League this summer as he's already been linked to clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, and Arsenal. Any club in England would tell you that the feeling is mutual. When Hazard was asked if he was excited about to be watched by Fergie, here's how he responded:

"Of course, this a club that excites anyone. For now my focus is on Lille but yes, it is a pleasure to be watched by one of the best coaches in the world, if not the best."

- Hazard | Source: La Voix du Nord

Anyway, that's some of the background information on the transfer speculation in regards to Hazard. However, this isn't a piece discussing the validity of these rumblings or the degree of truth to them. Instead, just as we did with possible transfer target Nicolas Gaitan a few days ago, I merely wish to provide a brief introduction, a scouting report, and to discuss how Hazard might fit in at United if he were to join the club.

Introducing Eden Hazard

Hazard joined Lille as a 14-year-old in 2005 and he made his senior debut for the club during their 2007-08 season. During each of the 21-year-old's five seasons at the club, he has shown tremendous developmental progress and it was last season when he became youngest ever to be named Ligue 1 Player of the Year. It was also a season that saw Lille win their first top-flight French title since the 1953-54 season. Hazard already has 26 caps for Belgium as well.

Scouting Report

The 5'8" Hazard is an extremely tricky player with a low center of gravity and depending on your perspective, the comparisons by some to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are either ridiculous or an optimistic view to his immense potential. The cynic might say (rightfully?) that the comparisons are overly grand, and perhaps they are, but the boy clearly has loads of talent.

Hazard is a player that has shown that he can play anywhere in the attacking line in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3ish system. He's mostly been deployed as a wide player -- more often than not, as a wide left-attacker -- but he's also been deployed as a central-attacking-midfielder this season after Lille saw the departure of Gervinho and Yohan Cabaye.This hints at versatility and growth in his tactical intelligence.

Hazard has proved to be genuinely dangerous with both feet and a terror on either flank. He can come at you with terrorizing pace, balance, and imagination. His eye for the spectacular also allows him to influence a game with a brilliant solo effort. He's always been been able to create for others but he's increasingly shown the ability to score goals as well. The table below shows his Ligue 1 statistics from his past three seasons.

The Busby Babe

Goals

Assts

Shots/gm

Key Passes/gm

Successful Dribbles/gm

Fouls won/gm

Successful crosses/gm

2009/10

5

8

1.4

1.5

1.6

3.6

0.5 (15.7%)

2010/11

7

10

1.0

2.6

2.7

3.6

0.9 (23.4%)

2011/12*

15

13

2.8

2.4

2.2

3.8

0.9 (23.7%)

* This is through 32 of 38 Ligue 1 matches this season

How might Hazard fit in at United?

Do we have a lot of wide attackers? Yeah. Do we have a lot of world-class players? No -- I'd argue only Wayne Rooney, a healthy Nemanja Vidic, and Paul Scholes on his day is what we have in that regard. Is Hazard a world-class player? No -- but the 21-year-old could very well develop into that -- and he may not be far away.

Both Nani and Park Ji-sung only have a year left on their contracts after this season so it's possible that the options in our wide-attacking areas may become somewhat depleted soon -- and further so when Ryan Giggs retires. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are obviously tremendous wingers but Hazard's potential development could possibly provide something a bit extra -- and by extra, I mean world-class. United undoubtedly have the best lot of wingers in England right now but is that enough to compete on the continent? It is to compete-- but after watching Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery yesterday versus Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League semi-final, I further realized our system and tactics demands that sort of world-class dominance from our own wide attackers. Perhaps even more so when one considers our midfield after Paul Scholes commits to walking away from his playing days.

Hazard isn't a traditional winger -- neither was Cristiano. And Hazard isn't Cristiano right now -- nor may he ever be. But, he's a brilliant player with endless potential and we'd foolish to be skeptical just because we have a plethora of quality of wide players. I think our limited resources are better used for help in the center of the park but I'd be glad to welcome a player like Eden Hazard to Old Trafford. Keep this in mind, needs are needs and they require the best use of limited resources -- but the opportunity, if it presents itself, of a world-class player overrides this for me.

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