By Matt Smith
DUBAI, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Eden Hazard has the talent to overcome a goal drought and lead Belgium to at least the semi-finals of Euro 2016, former captain Eric Gerets told Reuters.
Chelsea playmaker Hazard has gone nine international appearances without scoring, spanning last summer’s World Cup finals and the ongoing Euro qualifying campaign.
Belgium’s latest struggles -- a 0-0 draw at home to Wales on Sunday -- led coach Marc Wilmots to criticise Hazard for showboating, according to media reports.
But Gerets, who captained Belgium at the 1982 and 1990 World Cups and was a member of the team that finished fourth in 1986, pleaded for more patience when asked if Hazard had disappointed for his country.
“Disappointment is too strong,” Gerets told Reuters in Abu Dhabi, where he coaches the city’s Al Jazira FC.
“Even Messi needed a lot of time before he was the saviour of the national team. It didn’t happen for several years. You have to give Hazard more time. It will come. He has too much talent.”
Hazard, 23, has scored 35 goals in 128 appearances for Chelsea, plus 37 in 162 games for former club Lille, according to soccerbase.com. That equates to a goal every four games.
But for Belgium, the playmaker has netted six times in 54 appearances and has gone nine games without scoring, a paltry return for a player tipped to rival Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale as the world’s most dangerous winger-cum-forward.
“The future will show if he’s able to get on the same level as they are,” said Gerets. “Even if he never makes it to the same level, just below them is still a world (class) player.”
‘BEST SQUAD EVER’
Belgium lie fourth in their Euro 2016 qualifying group with five points from three matches after trouncing Andorra 6-0 before the Wales draw and a 1-1 stalemate away to Bosnia.
That leaves the ‘Red Devils’ four points adrift of group leaders Israel, yet Belgium remain heavy favourites to top their section and take part in the 24-team finals in France.
“With the talent Belgium has at the moment it would be a disappointment if by the next European Championship or World Cup they don’t get to the semi-finals,” said Gerets.
He said the squad, with top class talent such as Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Cortouis and Vincent Kompany, was better than his 1986 vintage, which lost in the World Cup semi-finals to Diego Maradona’s Argentina.
“This is the best squad Belgium ever had,” he added.
Since hanging up his boots in 1992 after a trophy-laden playing career, Gerets has enjoyed a nomadic coaching career, winning titles in Belgium, Holland, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar before moving to Abu Dhabi this summer.
Yet he has never coached his national team.
“It was two times an issue, but for personal reasons I couldn’t accept, otherwise I would be coach of Belgium at this moment,” said Gerets, declining to provide further details.
“But then there are rumours Marc (Wilmots) will not finish his contract. You never know what happens in football. I‘m satisfied with my life in Abu Dhabi, but in football things change so quickly so you can never say what will happen next week.” (Editing by Peter Rutherford)