On the 12th of August 2012, Eden Hazard swaggered into Stamford Bridge after one of the most protracted transfer sagas in recent memory. He was a young footballer coming to the Premier League with a weight of expectation that many had not seen in a long time. Hazard possessed all the right characteristics to reinvigorate a Chelsea side looking to transform itself after claiming its first European Cup. At £32m+ he ranks as Chelsea’s second most expensive signing and questions were immediately asked. Was he worth the investment?
“I see some values on players, like Hazard for instance. To me it was a lot of money. He’s a good player, but £34m?” – Sir Alex Ferguson.
Ferguson may simply have been irritated that Hazard chose London over Manchester, but he did have a point. Chelsea had a record of splurging big money on players who could never justify their price tag. Thankfully the potential for another Shevchenko/Torres/SWP scenario looks almost impossible based on his first season showing. While this may be a tad hyperbolic I believe Hazard was the closest thing in world football to a buyable Messi/Ronaldo level talent. Only time will tell if he becomes that good.
Anyone with internet access could patently see just how skilful and outrageously gifted he was at Lille. There were numerous reasons why almost every European club side wanted to sign him in the summer.
“Eden is twenty-two. He’s got the world at his feet […]” – Frank Lampard.
Hazard is the reason you go to watch football and I have only felt that about a handful of players. Watching him dribble is devastatingly beautiful. He eloquently glides across the pitch with artistic precision and a deftness of touch not seen at Stamford Bridge since Gianfranco Zola redefined the term “close control”. Outrageously mesmeric footwork reminiscent of a Barry Sanders or Jason Robinson (if they were footballers) has left defenders perplexed, tricks that actually create space not merely for show and flicks that invariably bamboozle opposition have been a part of every performance.
Hazard often touches the ball upwards of eighty times in a game and typically loses the ball once every ninety minutes. Considering his style of play and prominence in the final third the fact he rarely cedes possession is unreal. This is largely due to his surprising strength and terrific low centre of gravity – the term “turned on a sixpence” seems to have been coined for Hazard.
He has been the attacking player Chelsea fans have been yearning for since the departure of Arjen Robben. Hazard offers a direct threat which is magnified by his cleverness in possession. It is this awareness and vision that separates him from other players of his ilk. Hazard has registered over twenty assists in his debut season in a side that has not featured a consistently competent striker. Just think about that for a second. Imagine him in a side featuring Oscar, Juan Mata and a world class striker. It is quite scary.
He has the ability to play sublime defence splitting passes which constantly create chances for teammates. His first time ball into Juan Mata at White Hart Lane may well be the pass of the season. While the assists obviously take precedence in the “look how well he is doing” column his link-up play in general is sublime. The goal against West Ham was a perfect example of what he has been doing all season: incisive one touch passing, the ability to keep the ball in close proximity and the injection of tempo to translate a situation into space or an opportunity. His decision making is similarly on point and I absolutely love the fact that the convoluted stuff only happens when it is on. The amount of times he keeps it simple is a great example to follow – possession is key.
There have been concerns defensively, though lately his contribution is much improved. The maturity he is showing and willingness to start protecting his full-back was highlighted by Pat Nevin recently. Clearly there is still work to be done here, but a balance is coming to his game that likely did not exist previously.
To really be considered an elite level talent there are really only two areas Hazard needs to properly address. While he is ahead of Ronaldo and Messi in the assists department, his goal scoring tally is nowhere near either. While he is scoring important goals and making telling contributions I think there is even more there to be seen. Messi and Ronaldo are basically worth a goal to their team every game. Hazard can aspire and reach that level, but it will take time to truly become that influential.
Lastly, he needs consistency. Statistically Hazard’s debut season has been superb. Currently sitting on twelve goals and twenty-two assists playing in a largely dysfunctional team is some achievement. However, he needs to dominate games more and not simply just show flashes of brilliance. He suffered a slight blip in form where he would play well in brief spells, but then look peripheral. Nevertheless, the past two months have seen him constantly change games, influence for ninety minutes and drive the team forward. If that dip was him adjusting to the league then the future looks so very bright.
How good can he be? He has the tools to be one of the greatest players to ever play for Chelsea. The only real question to ask is will Chelsea keep hold of him long enough for that to become a reality? If Chelsea settle as a club, utilise the army of young talent at their disposal and consistently challenge domestically and in Europe he may never want to leave. We can but hope.
For an exclusive Eden Hazard interview on life at Chelsea on and off the pitch, head over to Topman Generation
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