Thorgan Hazard looks set to step out of the shadow of his brother Eden
Jose Mourinho turned up in the West Flanders town of Waregem on Thursday night on a very important scouting mission.
The Chelsea manager could cover most of western Europe each and every week checking up on the progress of his battalion of loanees, but few in his extended squad are as special as Thorgan Hazard.
The 21-year-old brother of Eden has been in spectacular form ever since the unglamorous and unheralded Belgian Pro League outfit Zulte-Waregem borrowed him last summer and now Mourinho had come to see if all the positive feedback was true.
Wearing a navy blue overcoat and a shirt casually untucked and unbuttoned, Mourinho sat at the front of the main stand in the compact 10,200-seater Regenboogstadion with his assistant Rui Faria.
He carefully studied a teamsheet on which just the one name would have been familiar – the man in the all-red strip, wearing the No 10 on his back.
Ahead of kick-off, the home fans behind one goal would have caught Mourinho’s eye as they unfurled an enormous white banner that covered the stand from pitch to roof.
Next to the face of Thorgan Hazard, written in English, the slogan: ‘Arrived as “Little brother of…” Leaving as OUR golden boy.’
Thorgan will always be the younger sibling of Eden but he’s been making plenty of noise of his own without having to rely on the reflected glory of his big brother.
14 goals and 17 assists during the Pro League season took Zulte into the six-team Championship Play-off, where they are on the brink of qualifying for next season’s Europa League.
On the night of his late-season visit, Mourinho was able to watch Thorgan in action for a full 90 minutes but came away without seeing him find the target as he had done in his last three outings.
Zulte went down 2-1 to Anderlecht, the favourites to win the league when Belgium’s complex format of play-offs come to their conclusion this weekend.
Even Eden, regarded by many Chelsea fans as their best player following a season of 17 goals and 10 assists, concedes that Thorgan is the better player. There is no sibling rivalry it seems, just an appreciation that Thorgan has, or soon will have, the more complete suite of attributes.
A creative No 10, Thorgan possesses well-honed dribbling and shooting skills, a deft touch and close control.
He has come on leaps and bounds during his second loan season at Zulte, finding the net far more often and offering more for his teammates.
His sense of adventure on the field is summed up by this quote from a couple of years back: ‘When I have two strikers in front of me, I have fewer possibilities on the sides to widen the play.
‘But it’s easiest to find me and to play deeply. It’s a matter of movement and animation in front of me.
‘But in fact, I don’t care. I like to play direct football as much as to build an attack on the sides. When you like to play in support of the striker, you have to adapt.’
So there you have it – play me wherever you like, I’ll prosper.
His form fuelled speculation that he could be on the Belgian plane to Brazil with his elder brother. In the end, he had to settle for the standby list this time.
He has played a full part in the Under 21s qualification campaign for the European Championships and it seems a matter of time before Marc Wilmots unleashes him on the world.
Thorgan could not have done a great deal more during his loan spell in Belgium. The fact Mourinho made a trip just to check up on him suggests there’s every chance he’ll be at Stamford Bridge next season. Now he has to prove he can cope in the Premier League.
But if he is truly the better Hazard sibling, then that shouldn’t be much of a problem.
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