Belgium have their fair share of representatives plying their trade in England but Eden Hazard is the one name that stands out in a quality group of players. The enigmatic winger has always been touted as a player who could go on to become one of the best in the World, a prophecy he’s well on the way to fulfilling according to Alok Kulkarni.
On a cold, wet December day on the south coast of England, as a team in blue warmed up at St. Mary’s Stadium, the noise level in the crowd began to rise. Jose Mourinho and his men who were playing in their third fixture in six days and on the back of a couple of 2-0 wins, came to Southampton with their tails up. However, the Saints have been the surprise package in the English Premier League this season and this was no guaranteed three points. The meanest home defence was up against the freest scoring team in the land.
On days like these, teams need someone to put their hands up and be ready for a fight – quite literally sometimes. A player, who can carry a team, can inspire them and ultimately lead them safely over the finish line. That player, that day for Chelsea was a certain Belgian called Eden Hazard. In the first half of play, from what seemed like an innocuous position, the former Lille man produced magic with his feet. He drove at the Saints defence, as light on his feet as a ballerina, dribbled and bamboozled players around him and slotting the ball home became a mere formality. He went on to celebrate with the away crowd who were all singing his name, they were still in awe of what they had just seen. Special, sublime and world-class were some of the adjectives being thrown around.
If there was ever the right usage of the term “football running through veins”, the Hazard family has to be a prime example. Dad, mom and siblings were/ are all football players and have in fact sacrificed a lot to be where they are. Hazard Sr. had to retire early from his semi-professional playing career and make the tough choice of sending his eldest son Eden to France to be looked after by bigger clubs in the French Ligue 1. A tough decision that the entire country of Belgium and a small borough called Kensington & Chelsea in the south west of London is thankful for.
From his relatively lesser-known days at Lille to the bright lights of London – the rise has been meteoric. Such has been the rise, some might say, that Chelsea and Belgium’s Eden Hazard might just be the third best player in the world after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
While there is a never-ending debate as to which European league is the best in terms of quality, one thing is for sure that both the Spanish and English leagues are right up there. If there is one thing going for the English league, it is that the competition between clubs is tougher than ever. For that, we have to look no further than last weekend and at Burnley who came to both Chelsea and Manchester City and took away a point from the title contenders to the surprise of most. While the Spanish league is almost always a two, recently three, horse race, the Premier League almost always has the top-four vying for the trophy.
All of this is just to help one understand that Hazard plays week-in and week-out going to places like Leicester, Southampton, Burnley and the likes where three points are anything but guaranteed. Chelsea’s reliance on the Belgian cannot be understated.
A look at the stats since he has joined Chelsea shows his vast improvement over the years. He already has 14 goals this season as compared to 13 overall in the entire 2012/13 season. His number of key passes has also gone up from an average of 1.9 a game two seasons ago to 2.7 a game this season. He has been the most fouled player in the league and the Champions League this season (much to Mourinho’s chagrin) and has the most successful take-on win percentage at 63% owing to his excellent dribbling skills. He has also created a total of 71 chances so far in the Premier League – another record. Given where he plays and how many chances he creates, his passing percentage of 88 and a total of 1255 passes in the league is commendable.
Another factor he has going for him is the fact that he has to adapt himself to play in the ‘Mourinho way’. Not exactly unique to the football world, but this style of play is certainly not what you’d associate with most of the top-tier leagues around Europe. A lot of his contenders for the spot including Sergio Aguero, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez, Arjen Robben have fixed roles within their teams. The extra effort that Hazard puts in every match gives him brownie points from his manager and more importantly, us.
While Ronaldo and Messi continue to score goals even as they sleepwalk, Hazard’s goal scoring record has left a lot to be desired. A total of 44 goals in 147 appearances since joining Chelsea in 2012 does not exactly impress one and all. Although he was the main source of Chelsea’s goals in the 2012/13 and 2013/14 season, he only managed 30 in 111 appearances. In his defense though, throughout his career so far, he has played just behind the striker or on the wings where he is expected to provide rather than score goals. To that effect, his 24 assists in the league since moving to Stamford Bridge make for much better reading.
The arrival of a much better strike force in Diego Costa and Loic Remy has made Hazard’s life much easier. That and the little matter of a world-class Cesc Fabregas joining him in midfield have alleviated further responsibilities from his shoulders. This is important because he now has the freedom to play pretty much his natural game and know that there are players who can finish off the move. In playing his natural game, he is undoubtedly one of the best players to watch not only in the league, but also in the world. His dribbling skills, one-on-ones and near-perfect vision make him, undoubtedly, a world-class player.
The chinks in an otherwise solid armour are his aforementioned goal scoring record, his lack of trophies to date and a relative lack of fame at the international level. While the latter two will come as he continues to play regularly for his club and country, but at only 24-years-old, he still has plenty of time to do it.
All said and done, Eden Hazard certainly has come a long way from where he started and the graph can only continue to rise. While the topic of whether he is the 3rd best player in the world is still up for debate, we believe he has to only iron-out minor flaws in his game to achieve that. Not only that, still with plenty of time on his hands, the Belgian could very well become the best player on the planet. For now though, he has to be elated with the knowledge that he is already being spoken of in the same breath as Aguero, Ibrahimovic and Robben.
Written by Alok Kulkarni
- Scout Report: Victor Lindelof | Benfica’s tough defender - June 2, 2017
- Scout Report: Tammy Abraham | Chelsea’s young striker - September 20, 2016
- Cesc Fabregas: A Year in Review - May 1, 2015