Chelsea star Eden Hazard needs to handle expectations if he is to produce his very best form for the club, former midfielder Michael Ballack has said.
The Belgium international inspired Chelsea to a Premier League and League Cup double in 2014-15, but endured a hugely disappointing campaign last year as the champions finished 10th in the top flight.
Manager Antonio Conte said last month that Hazard, along with Chelsea’s other leading players, “must understand that there is the ability to work to prove and to show that, ‘Now I am a top player, but I want to become top, top, top and want to stay there'”.
And Ballack, who won the Premier League, League Cup and three FA Cups during his Stamford Bridge career, has urged the 25-year-old to embrace his position as the club’s biggest star.
“He was struggling a bit last year,” he told Omnisport. “Players like him, who are, in my eyes, very emotional players, they need a kind of warm environment, a good relationship with everyone – especially the coach – to perform.
“And he has unbelievable talent. I mean, the expectations to handle that and to bring it at the right time on the pitch is the key question for him.
“He’s getting older now as well and it’s not his first season at Chelsea anymore. So all the fans and the club expect a lot from him and I think he needs to understand he’s one of the key players, if not the key player, of that team.
“He got the captain’s armband for his Belgium team from the [former] coach Marc Wilmots, which shows his attention. He gave him this responsibility to understand.
“He’s not just a winger to perform some days to show his incredible talent. No, there’s much more about leadership and what he brings to the team because he has this incredible talent. But there’s something above that – not just to perform but have this responsibility for the team.
“If I see to the right and to the left I don’t see a player on this team on his level. And he needs to understand that, and then I think he will bring his talent on the pitch and also has this impact to his team-mates. Because that’s what I expect from a big player – to have this impact on his team-mates as well, to push them as well, in terms of performing.”
Hazard converted a penalty as Chelsea began their Premier League campaign with a 2-1 win over West Ham on Monday. They travel to Vicarage Road to take on Watford on Saturday.