Zola hails Hazard's progress
Footballer of the Year Eden Hazard has developed into the complete midfielder under the guidance of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, according to former Blues forward Gianfranco Zola.
Belgium international Hazard was forced to miss Thursday night's Football Writers' Association 2015 Footballer of the Year dinner in London after having emergency dental surgery to remove three wisdom teeth.
The 24-year-old playmaker sent his apologies with Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck instead collecting the prestigious FWA accolade, which has been handed out each year since 1948, on his behalf at the London Landmark Hotel.
Zola played more than 200 matches for Chelsea and was himself FWA Footballer of the Year in 1997, while also voted the club's greatest player by Blues fans in 2003.
The 48-year-old believes Hazard's development this season as Mourinho's side secured a first Barclays Premier League title since 2010 has been quite remarkable.
"There is no doubt that Hazard is an exceptional player and he is one of those players who has got huge potential. In Italy we would say he is one of the players who you say is worth the price of the ticket," said Zola at the FWA dinner.
"Everyone knows Hazard can do exceptional things going forward, but his work rate defensively this season has been unbelievable. If you see a star player working so hard it is a massive incentive for everyone.
"Jose has played a major part on teaching him to be effective when the team has not got the ball."
Zola added: "Having a player like Hazard means Chelsea will be the team to beat next year.
"He is a player and they are a team that deserve all the credit they are getting this season."
Former Lille midfielder Hazard, signed by Chelsea for £32million in June 2012, was also named 2014/15 Player of the Year by the Professional Footballers' Association.
Hazard had earlier sent a message of gratitude on Twitter. The Chelsea midfielder wrote: "Big thank you to the English Football Writers for naming me their player of the year. I am sorry I cannot be there tonight but please know I am very proud of this big award."
Blues boss Mourinho paid tribute to Hazard with a personal message in the FWA event programme.
The Chelsea boss wrote: "Eden deserves it because he has been by far the best player of this season and for me and his team-mates, he is a golden boy to work with. When we needed him to be decisive for us he was.
"His evolution since I have been back at Chelsea has been fantastic and he is still very young so we hope he can become the best.
"He knows he is a special player for us, but he is just a fantastic kid who doesn't belong to the glamour.
"We hope Eden will be at Chelsea for a long, long time he signed a new contract earlier in the season which shows he believes in the club's coaching staff and players to help him become the best player in the world.
"His talent allows him to think about going from a top player to become one of the greats of his generation."
Hazard is not expected be fit to play in Chelsea's final home match of the season against Sunderland at Stamford Bridge, but it is hoped he can be presented with his Footballer of the Year trophy on the pitch before kick-off.
A statement from the FWA read: "2015 Footballer of the Year Eden Hazard has had emergency dental surgery and will be unable to collect his award in person tonight.
"Hazard tried to delay the surgery but had to have three wisdom teeth removed on Wednesday and is still in considerable pain.
"He is deeply sorry to miss the awards dinner and hopes to be at Stamford Bridge on Sunday when the FWA will hand over the trophy."