King of his Own Dynasty
Eden Hazard was born January 7th, 1991 to mother Carine and Father Thierry, both of whom also played Football for a living. Hazard’s father played Semi-Pro and earned good money bouncing around the Belgian Second Division and his mother Carine a similar living in the Belgian Women’s First Division. Carine Hazard would play all the way up until she was three months pregnant with Eden and after the birth of their first child quickly found that the travelling life of footballers was not compatible with raising a family, both Carine and Thierry would settle down as sports teachers at a local school, until retirement in 2009.
Eden is the oldest of four football-playing off-spring of Carine and Thierry, with Thorgan Hazard at Borussia Mönchengladbach, Kylian Hazard who has joined his older brother at Chelsea and the youngest of the lot Ethan continues to play for the same youth side his elders graduated from, Tubize.
Eden is by far the king of his own football-playing dynasty, one that would rival any other well-known footballing family around the world.
Whilst Eden may well have started his youth career at Tubize, a local grassroots side, like his Brothers, it was at Lille where he made his name. Signing for the youth academy in 2005 and spending two years in the development programme, which combined education and playing, keen to give players who didn’t make it a pathway into the working world. Eden was one of those that did make the cut, he progressed well and signed professional terms with Lille in May of 2007 and at 16 years old made his debut for Lille reserve side September 2007, in the Championnat de France amateur, the fourth division in the French Football Pyramid.
His first pro season with Lille would be potholed with appearances for u-18s, reserve side and the first team, making his senior side debut against Nancy in Ligue One in November 2007, due to International call-ups and injuries to the starting eleven. His first ever professional goal would be scored approximately six months later for the reserve side against Vitre, the match winner to boot. Lille reserves would finish fifth in the Fourth Division, the first year any French top-flight side had a reserve team compete professionally.
Hazards second year would see him permanently promoted to the senior side by new manager Rudi Garcia and early in the new season he’d make several substitute appearances, with one cameo proving decisive.
2-1 down to Auxerre going into the 80th minute, Hazard was subbed on and just Eight minutes later he latched onto a half-cleared corner and smashed a right footed shot past the keeper, simultaneously equalising the game and becoming Lille youngest ever goal scorer in the top flight. Buoyed by the electricity Hazard provided, Lille pressed hard in the final minutes and deep into injury time Lille snatched all three points.
Four days later Hazard made his first start in the French League Cup, a 4-2 defeat on penalties would see that adventure end prematurely and it wouldn’t be until November that Hazard would make another start for the team. He certainly repaid the faith, however, scoring the opener and being involved in the build of the other two goals in a 3-0 beating of St Etienne, the club’s hierarchy had seen enough, and they tied Hazard down to a four-year extension, keeping Eden at the club until 2012 at least.
He would finish the year as the leagues Young Player of The Year and Lille would place 5th ahead of Paris Saint Germain for a Europa League Qualifier spot.
How times have changed.
The Hype Train Gathers Speed
Following his impressive start to his professional career Hazard would receive the attention of several high-profile clubs, Arsenal, Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid would all test the resolve of Lille chairman Michel Seydoux.
Despite the interest Hazard committed to Lille for another season, declaring:
“I am happy where I am, and still learning the game at a club that is giving me first-team opportunities”
The first competitive game of Lille new season saw Hazard first goal of the year, a Europa League Qualifier against Serbian side FK Sevojno. The Europa League would prove a happy hunting ground for Hazard in the early days of the season with another goal, this time against Genk in 6-3 aggregate win that saw Lille into the competitions group stages.
Eden’s form in the competition would continue, a special goal against Genoa would go down as a career highlight for Hazard. Upon receiving the ball on the wing, Eden carved up half the entire Genoa team, dribbling past six players, before dispatching a well-placed shot into the bottom left from outside the 18-yard box. A month later he was man of the match in a 5-1 thrashing of Slavia Prague, later in the year Eden would again be instrumental in the defeating Liverpool in the first leg of the round of 16, scoring a free-kick in the 88th minute, unfortunately Lille’s Europa League campaign would end in a 3-0 defeat in the second leg back at Anfield.
Eden’s domestic campaign would just as successful, finishing 4th in Ligue One, agonisingly just a single point outside the Champions League Qualifier places and only 2pts outside the Group Stages of European Footballs richest club tournament. Hazard would again win Young Player of the Year, the first player in over a decade to win the award two consecutive years and he’d finish joint 4th amongst the league’s assists leaders, just four shy of top spot. The season would end with another Contract extension a decision that would prove very smart come June 2012, the original end date of last year’s extension.
Hazards final two years at Lille further established him as a globally recognised talent, winning the League and Cup double in 2010/11 and winning back to back Player of the Year awards in 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons, it had become clear to all that Eden had outgrown not only Lille, but Ligue One altogether, scoring an incredible 22 goals in 49 games in his final year. He was destined to compete at a higher level and whilst the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid provided a tempting prospect, ultimately it was the 2012 Champions League winners Chelsea that Eden would move too.
A £32m deal brought the Belgian to London and to arguably the most competitive league in European Football, the perfect proving ground for any player looking to establish themselves as the best I the world, and boy would he get off to a flier.
His first league appearance for Chelsea would see him involved in both goals of a 2-0 victory over Wigan, providing the assist for Ivanovic and winning a penalty converted by Lampard, in the very next game versus Reading FC, Eden again won a penalty that was converted by Lampard and assisted twice in a 4-2 home win, what a way to introduce yourself to the home crowd. Three days later he’d open his Chelsea goalscoring account against Newcastle, scoring a penalty in a 2-0 win, maintaining the European Champions 100% start to the new league campaign. He would be in scintillating form throughout his
debut campaign, scoring 13 times and providing 14 assists in all competitions. Finishing 3rd behind the two Manchester clubs would see them into next years Champions League group Stage and despite managerial turmoil for the second season in a row, Chelsea lifted the Europa League trophy after finishing a disappointing 3rd in their Champions League group.
He’d be named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year for his efforts, the first of four appearances in the end of year squad, Hazard would also be nominated PFA Young Player of the Year, although he wouldn’t win it in his debut season, just 12 months later he would collect the prestigious award off the back of a stellar year.
His second season with Chelsea wouldn’t see any title wins, but as an individual, he would make the top 10 list for The Ballon d’Or, the first sign that Eden Hazard could be a future winner. His nomination was rubber stamped by a Man of The Match performance against Sunderland, with both Jose Mourinho and opposition manager Gus Poyet claiming that it’ll go down as individual performance of the season.
“He was unplayable, I haven’t come up against an individual performance like that in my entire career” – Gus Poyet, post-match interview
Hazard would score his first Premier League hat-trick a few short months later against Newcastle United, the plaudits from his manager continued as Jose would claim that Hazard was the best young player in the world. Whilst he claimed Young Player of the Year, he would have to settle for a runner-up spot behind Luis Suarez for the overall Player of the Year.
The 2014/15 season would prove more fruitful on a silverware front for Eden, and it would get off to a great start, beating Arsenal 2-0 in October, converting his 16th consecutive penalty and becoming the only player in Europe to have taken more than 15 penalties and scoring them all.
Hazard would score his first ever headed goal against Hull in a 2-0 victory which came as a surprise to Jose Mourinho, who said
“he’s usually one of these players that closes his eyes when he jumps, so I’m surprised to see him score with his head”
He finished the year as PFA Player of the Year, Chelsea Player of the Year and a Premier League Winner, having scored 14 times.
When people dispute Hazards claim as a future Ballon d’Or winner, it’s always the 2015/16 that the critics will point you toward, and to be honest rightly so. In 31 league appearances, Hazard managed just 4 goals in a disastrous season that saw just as much turmoil off the pitch as on it. Chelsea finished 10th in the league and fighting a lawsuit from former Club Doctor Eve Caneiro, although Hazard would consequently score the goal that decided the Premier League winner, with an equaliser vs Tottenham, handing the title and a fairy-tale ending to Leicester City.
Eden was heavily criticised throughout the year for not being in any of the games he played in that year, he figuratively went missing on so many occasions, and often at times when Chelsea needed a player of Hazards quality to push them on to victory.
He even put himself on the market, amidst interest from PSG citing an offer would be too good to turn down.
Safe to say he was nowhere near his best and finished the season on six goals in all competitions, the first time in eight seasons he’d fail to break into double figures for goals.
Can You See Me Now?
With a whirlwind of a summer behind him, in which he weathered a lot of transfer speculation, and ultimately a disappointing Euro 2016 campaign, beaten by Wales.
Eden Hazard returned to Chelsea his old self, almost as if the previous 12 months had been a bad dream, back to back Man of the Matches saw him named August Player of the Month. That vein of form would continue through the season, beating old manager Mourinho’s United side 2-0, another back to back Man of the Match run would see him named October Player of the Month and by December, Hazard would notch his 50th Chelsea goal on the way to record-breaking 12th consecutive victories in the league. Chelsea would secure the title in new manager Antonio Conte’s first year, with a record points haul and most games won with 30, Hazard the lynchpin of that success. He was duly nominated to PFA Team of the Year for the fourth time in five seasons and named Chelsea’s Player of The Year for a record-equalling third time.
Both the records set that year have now been ousted by this year’s Manchester City team and whilst Hazard again would be amongst Chelsea’s better players, it’s been a tough season that might still end with an FA Cup winners’ medal around the neck of the mercurial Belgian.
King of The Hill or Over It?
What has been difficult for me to give a definitive answer on whether I think Hazard can be considered a future contender for The Ballon d’Or, has opened my eyes to how brilliant and misunderstood he is.
Yes, the 2015/16 season was far from his finest, but it sticks out like a sore thumb in an 11 year professional career that has seen Eden already break the top 10 list for The Best Player in the World Award, bar his first senior year at the age of 16, this season was the only one in which he failed to score more than 10 goals. It also stands out as the only year he failed to win an individual award of any kind, having been named French League Best Young Player twice and overall best player twice, as well as Premier League Young Player and Overall Best Player in consecutive years.
Eden Hazard goes about his job quietly, he’s not the flashiest, rarely will you see step-overs and Rabonas from a player gifted with world class dribbling skills. For that reason he often get’s accused of going missing, providing no highlights to speak of, even though the stats might tell a different story.
Do I think Eden Hazard will ever be named Ballon d’Or Winner? Unfortunately, not whilst he remains a Chelsea player. Rumours are rife that he could be the long-term replacement for Ronaldo at Madrid or Robben at Bayern, but at 27 years of age how long term he’ll be at either team is unclear.
The Champions League and the World Cup have always been long-standing markers for the eventual winners of the Ballon d’Or, Chelsea and Belgium look a long way off from winning either. If Hazard ever hopes to be considered amongst the worlds elite players, beyond his 8th place finish in 2015, he’ll need to be part of set-up capable of winning the former multiple times and as it stands there are currently only four teams in the world capable of that, Chelsea isn’t one of them.
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Do you think Hazard can ever win the Ballon d’Or?