Chelsea manager Sarri questions Hazard’s leadership
Belgian midfielder is ‘more of an individual player than a leader’, says Sarri
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri had accused his players of being “extremely difficult to motivate” after Saturday’s meek defeat at Arsenal. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Maurizio Sarri has risked straining his relationship with Eden Hazard by suggesting the Belgian is “more an individual player than a leader”, ahead of the second leg of Chelsea’s Carabao Cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur, a game for which Gonzalo Higuaín will not be available.
Sarri had accused his players of being “extremely difficult to motivate” after Saturday’s meek defeat at Arsenal, and has since spoken twice with his squad as a group about how to reinvigorate their approach. Higuaín’s arrival on loan from Juventus, a deal which should be announced on Wednesday afternoon after he flew to London to sign, may help but the player failed to complete the paperwork by the midday deadline to feature against Spurs.
Yet, with the situation at Chelsea clearly on edge after a fourth defeat in 11 Premier League matches, Sarri’s decision to question Hazard’s leadership qualities felt untimely. The uncertainty over the 28-year-old’s contractual situation has been a recurring theme to date this season, with Real Madrid’s interest omnipresent. But, even when thrust into an uncomfortable number 9 role, he has contributed significantly in terms of goals and assists under the Italian’s stewardship.
Sarri had referenced Cesar Azpilicueta, who currently wears the armband in the absence of the out of favour Gary Cahill, and David Luiz as “players with the characteristics to be leaders”‚ who could “help all the other players to get the right mentality”. Asked whether Hazard, who has captained Belgium 28 times and led them to third in last summer’s World Cup, also boasts such qualities, he said: “I don’t know in this moment . . . in this moment, he’s more an individual player than a leader. He is very important for us, of course, because he is a great player. He always can win the match in two minutes. Sometimes in one minute. But, at the moment, he’s not a leader. He’s a great player. One of the best in the world.
“I think he said that coaches told him that he needs to do more. I think he has to do more. Because the potential is higher than the performances. He has to respect first of all himself. He has to do more. You know very well that Eden, at the moment, is a wonderful player. But he’s an individual player. He’s an instinctive player. For him, it’s very difficult to play only in one position. He likes very much to go to the ball, in the direction of the ball. He wants the ball at his feet. So it’s very difficult for him to play as a striker, but also as a winger. We have to organise the other 10 players in the defensive phase because he needs to play everywhere on the pitch.”
Hazard had given an interview to France Football in midweek in which he admitted to having frustrated all the coaches with whom he has worked. Asked if Sarri counted himself in their number, the Italian added with a chuckle: “Sometimes. I prefer him when he speaks with his feet.”
Higuaín should be in attendance at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea attempt to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg, and could make his debut in Sunday’s FA Cup fourth round tie against Sheffield Wednesday.
“He’s a very strong striker, especially in my first season in Naples [in 2015-16],” said Sarri, who was apparently unfamiliar with the midday cut-off for the player’s signing in terms of Thursday’s match. “He did very well. He scored 36 goals in 35 matches in Serie A. That season he scored 38 goals. So he did very, very well. For sure, he is one of the best strikers in my career. He played four seasons for Real Madrid, I think. I think he has the right experience to play here.
“We hope he brings goals, that he starts scoring for us. He’s also very good at other aspects, other than just goals, but that’s what we are hoping for. He has had some difficulties recently, but we’re hoping we can raise him back to his best form. He’s still scored eight goals [at Milan on loan from Juventus this season] in a team that isn’t at the same level as Juventus.
“We need to react on the pitch. The rest is nothing. We discussed with the players how to try to improve the approach, the motivation, the determination. And so we are trying to change something in training, in pre-match, in everything. But I think we all have to react on the pitch. We needed to discuss our problems. The first step, if I want to improve, is to accept the mistakes. Otherwise it’s impossible to improve. It was a normal discussion for improving.”