Eden Hazard 21 Midfielder Chelsea
Eden Hazard was probably the best player in the world in 2011; except for two super humans that compete on their own level. The Belgian midfielder was, along with Mario Götze, the star turn of the 2010 Don Balon list as he guided Lille almost single-handedly to the Ligue 1 championship. 2011/12 was always going to be his last season with the French club and Hazard, to his credit, did everything he could to drive his price right up. We’re going to allow him the benefit of the doubt and say it was all a ploy to make sure Lille got the best deal possible.
The vibrant winger batted his eye lashes at every club you can imagine from this time last year up until the point that he announced his eventual decision by Twitter to sign for the Champions League winners. Thanks to the actions of his agent and the player himself, he made sure Lille got their money’s worth. Plenty of clubs were interested and rightfully so; Hazard is a special player.
Having been relocated to France by his parents at just 14, Hazard didn’t take long to stand out. The Hazard family left Belgium such was their dismay at the poor standard of the training facilities available to their sons and the shambles that was youth development at many of the top clubs. French football’s systems have been much heralded over the years and it was something of a no-brainer to make the short move into Northern France. It is to Lille’s massive fortune that it was with them that he started to play for.
Having debuted with the club just shy of his 17th birthday in 2007/08, Hazard grew at an incredible pace. It didn’t take long before devotees of French football were ranting and raving about the kid that simply kept having awards and accolades bestowed upon him. The unexpected Lille title win two seasons ago was inspired by Hazard and ably assisted by Yohan Cabaye, Gervinho and Moussa Sow.
To fully establish the effect that Eden had on LOSC Lille Métropole, you need only glance back at his former club. Lille started this season, their first in five years without Hazard, by winning just two of their first nine league matches and claiming just 10 points from the first 10 games. They have since rallied a little but recently fell to a 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League. There is no reason to suggest that Hazard’s inclusion against the German giants would have ensured a clean sheet for the French side; but the players were a different proposition when they knew Eden was lining along with them. They played with more confidence and more belief, potentially safe in the knowledge that if they did the basics right; he’d come up trumps.
Time and time again, the pacey midfielder came good for Lille. At Lille, he was usually deployed on the right of a forward-minded three but given the remit to do whatever he needed to find himself a goal or two. From January 1st until November 1st, Hazard scored 15 goals across Ligue 1 and the Premier League. According to Opta, he was the youngest player to reach 15 in Europe’s top five leagues. His biggest asset is his ability to play in any position across the field. Eden really has no defined position that he has made his own, such are the moments of brilliance he can produce from almost any starting point.
At Chelsea, Hazard plays a little deeper than he did in France. He works in cohorts with Juan Mata and Oscar behind Fernando Torres, terrorising defence with their tricks, speed, slick passing and accurate shooting. Hazard is a delight to see in full flight. His rip-roaring pace and attacking instinct terrify even the most experienced of defenders.
In his opening three games for Chelsea, he took the Premier League by storm creating four goals for his team-mates, scoring one himself and winning his side a penalty. Since then, he has gone a little off the boil in terms of the goals he has been directly involved in but that’s no doubt in part to clubs being turned on to Hazard’s incredible talent; as if they didn’t know already.
He is potentially the best ever Belgian footballer. Period. If he isn’t yet, he soon will be. Though he does have some work to do at national level. The Belgian team are rather blessed with their current crop of players although Hazard himself has struggled to reproduce what he has done with Lille and Chelsea for the Red Devils.
The memory of “hamburgergate” (when Hazard was pictured by Belgian TV eating a Hamburger after being substituted against Turkey) still lingers over the 21 year-old and those images coupled with a string of faltering performances have led to more and more attacks on his attitude. Hazard himself continues to reaffirm his commitment to the national team but until he produces, and we mean really produces, it will all just look like lip service.
Now, last year you’ll probably remember the brief moment of care that we offered to potential buyers of Hazard. To regurgitate the dreadful pun; it was our Hazard warning. We reasoned that Hazard’s blistering start to his career had been thanks to the stable environment at Lille and close proximity of his family. So far since signing Eden Hazard, Chelsea have signed up his younger brother Thorgan and not fired their manager. Well, they hadn't until this morning. Family nearby? Check. Stable environment? Well; not anymore.
For Hazard, the aim now is to do it all again. Reach the dizzying heights of 2011 but with the blue of Chelsea on his back. He is at a club with grand expectations. The Stamford Bridge side got a monkey off their back thanks to their Champions League win last season but it wasn’t done in the most exciting style possible. Hazard is part of a new Chelsea side that Roberto Di Matteo Roman Abramovich hopes will be able to play their way around the elite clubs of Europe rather than simply holding them off for as long as possible.
If they are to do that, Hazard will need to at least match the incredible displays of that title-winning season with Lille. Should he do that consistently, he’ll join Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the very top of the world game.
“After the summer transfer saga, Hazard has let his football do the talking. You only have to look at Lille this season to see how much he's missed. By the looks of it, his career in West London will be a fruitful one, slotting into the midfield trio seamlessly. His international career is by comparison underwhelming, perhaps feeling the pressure, but a delight to watch nonetheless.” - Chris Mayer (Belgian Waffle)
“One of the most exciting young players to come out of France in ages. As Lille stumbles Hazard flourished. The scary thing is, he is still getting better. An absolute joy to watch.” - Andrew Gibney (French Football Weekly)
B Still improving, but no longer a big fish in a small pond
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