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Never a Chelsea token: Why Kylian Hazard living up to family name

He'll be back. Kylian Hazard. Now of Cercle Brugge. If he wants it. The third of four Hazard brothers will work his way back to the Premier League.

A year with the U23s. Another on-loan with Cercle. And Hazard has cut ties with Chelsea this week - still with over a year on his deal. Cercle seeing enough to make his loan permanent, awarding the attacking midfielder a four-year contract in the process.

Chairman Frans Schotte enthused: “We are extremely pleased to announce the definitive transfer of Kylian Hazard. Today we succeed in further binding a Belgian with potential to Cercle Brugge.

"It's a transfer that reflects Cercle's ambition for next season."

And it was ambitious. Cercle having to burn off long standing LaLiga competition and confirmed interest from Borussia Monchengladbach to convince Hazard to stay.

As this deal proves, Hazard was no token at Chelsea. No simple pawn to keep older brother Eden happy. Arriving from Hungary and Ujpest two summers ago, the impression was Kylian was simply taken on as a favour to Eden.

Ujpest? C'mon. This kid was surely nowhere near the level of Eden. Nor even fellow sibling Thorgan, a star with Gladbach. At least, so the story went...

But dig a little deeper and you discover the choice of Hungary was part of a career plan. Kylian, by his own admission, had to get out from under the shadows of his more successful brothers. To be allowed to develop without the expectations that come with the Hazard name. And Ujpest allowed him to do just that.

"I wanted to sign for Ujpest," states Kylian. "It's the best choice I've made since I started playing football.

"Earlier I was at clubs where my brothers also played, so it was natural that I was regularly compared to them."

Kylian came through the youth system at Lille, where Eden was to be signed by Chelsea. Failing to shake expectations, he soon left to return home to Belgium.

"Eden broke through at Lille - and they waited for a similar development from me. At Zulte Waregem they thought I'd be the next Thorgan. We are brothers, but we are not the same. I'm not like them. Maybe this was not taken into account in my previous teams, so things didn't go well."

So rather than continue the same path, Kylian took a career gamble and headed to Eastern Europe.

"That's why I chose a club where my brothers didn't play, I felt good. I didn't suffer because of my brothers, my coaches did. They always wanted me to imitate them. But I wanted to walk my own way.

"I had other options, but I could develop at my own pace, no one cared about my last name."

And the decision proved a success. Hazard, at 20, establishing himself as an instant first-choice (35 games, four goals and five assists) - and helping his new club to the Hungarian Cup final. A day which would end in defeat - and required knee surgery.

But, again, the setback also illustrated his determination to build himself a career. Surgery in Barcelona was followed by six months of rehab. A process Hazard was determined to beat.

Rather than undergo his recovery at home, Hazard sought out former Belgium physio Lieven Maesschalck: "I followed him to Antwerp. I had rehabilitation sessions with him every day. I took a small apartment right next to his office and for six months, I lived there just for my rehab."

By Christmas, he was ready to return and playing out that second-half of the season led to a reunion with Eden at Chelsea.

A year on and Cercle football chief François Vitali spied an opportunity to tap into a talent he had worked with several years before.

“Just like Eden, I had already brought him to Lille at the time," says Vitali. "I strongly believe in him, because he has many qualities."

Indeed, Vitali was always convinced Hazard was capable of living up to the family name - given the right environment.

Upon striking loan terms with Chelsea, Vitali stated: "Kylian is really a talent and a good football player, but so far he has not had the luck to get the right support."

With the knee as good as new and armed with a surge of belief from those around him, that talent would soon find it's place in coach Laurent Guyot's XI. Hazard collecting multiple best afield awards culminating in perhaps a career best performance in Cercle's 2-1 upset of Anderlecht.

"Kylian has shown that he has an incredible potential," declared Guyot in the aftermath. "The next step now has to be that he also puts a little more regularity in his performance. Because this Kylian I want to see every game."

It was a run of form which also caught the eye of Max Eberl, Gladbach's sports director. With older brother Thorgan ready to move on, Eberl raised the prospect of Kylian arriving as a direct replacement.

Discussing Thorgan's mooted departure, Eberl declared: "The negotiations are conducted by Hazard's father Thierry, who is also his advisor. He has a lot to do with his sons," before adding, "Kylian is also a really good player."

But before Eberl could make good on those words, Vitali stepped in to settle terms with Chelsea. The four-year contract a reward for the way Kylian has tackled his career despite the weight of his family name.

"Everyone knows his qualities," says Cercle captain Benjamin Lambot, "he brings movement, can decide the fate of a game.

"And he has the Hazard style: he plays on the pitch and enjoys playing in a match - it's typical of his family."

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Chris Beattie
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