Time for the real Eden Hazard to stand up
As Eden Hazard stroked home the penalty that confirmed Chelsea as Premier League champions last May, we all bought into the idea that we were witnessing the rise of one of the game’s future greats.
Back then, the newly crowned PFA Player of the Year was being talked about as a potential successor to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Eden is the best player in England and that means he is one of the best in the world,” declared his then manager Jose Mourinho last summer.
“He is coming with big status now and was voted one of the top 10 players in Europe last year. “In my opinion he should be in the top three, not in the top 10. He can be the best... very soon.”
At the time few argued with the assessment, but the mere fact that Mourinho is no longer Hazard’s manager at Chelsea provides evidence that his star has fallen at a shockingly rapid rate over the last eight months.
With goals flowing from the wonder boy of Belgium’s golden generation of soccer heroes, this was the story of a boy done good – and who was destined to do even better. Break Yet something remarkable has happened.
His penalty at MK Dons in the FA Cup last Sunday ended an enduring Chelsea goal drought that lasted for remarkable 1,566 minutes of football (not including injury-time) without hitting the target.
Where has it all gone wrong for the boy from Belgium?
Dips in form are acceptable, but this has been a meltdown. Some have suggested that from the moment Hazard signed the lucrative new five-and-a-half-year contract that secured his financial future for life last February, his appetite for the game has waned alarmingly.
There is also a notion that his peripheral involvement in the scandal that saw Dr Eva Carneiro ousted from her role on the Chelsea media staff after she gave treatment to him – much to the annoyance of Mourinho – has led to a sense of disillusionment with his current employer.
Something is clearly amiss and whether Hazard has fallen out of love with Chelsea or lost his appetite for the game, the alarm bells are ringing. Remarkably, though, he still appears to be on Real Madrid’s shopping list for next summer.
With the Spanish giants delaying the transfer embargo imposed on them for breaking rules regarding the signing of young players, an £80m bid to sign Hazard is expected from a club that never concede defeat when they set their sights on a target.
Yet after his miserable run of form, Hazard hardly seems a viable contender to fill the boots of Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale at the Bernabeu.
At the age of 25, Hazard has reached a crossroads in his career and the direction he takes now will decide whether he is one of the game’s greats or just another mega-rich.
“You forget how young Hazard is,” suggests Chelsea great Frank Lampard.
“He has come on to the scene and it has always been good news for him. He’s never had a moment like this in his career.
“Everyone has faced a period like this in his career and it is all about how you come through it. I’m sure Eden Hazard will find a way, but it is tough for him at the moment.
“I was fortunate to play with him at Chelsea and his ability is just frightening.
“We saw what he could do last season, but it has been tough for everyone at the club this season and not just Hazard. I’m sure he’ll bounce back.”
Hazard is hardly the only villain of Chelsea’s desperate fall from grace this season, with at least six or seven of his high-profile team-mates equally culpable for taking part in the most pathetic title defence in Premier League history.
You can throw Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill into the list of under-performing stars at Chelsea, but Hazard’s slump has been the most glaring.
Now the time has come for him to bite back. After making his latest comeback from injury, his new manager Guus Hiddink insists this talisman will soon be on top form once more.
“We have a player coming back to fitness who will be fresh for the rest of the season and a fresh Eden Hazard could be crucial for us,” states Hiddink.
“You want players to be eager to come back from an injury and I have seen that with Eden. “He has won trophies with Chelsea last season, but if he wants to be winning the Ballon d’Or or be one of the world’s best players, he needs to show that desire.
“It’s not about being the best player in England for one season, it is about being there every year, like we see with Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
“The top players have consistency and that is what everyone has to strive for, including Hazard.”
There is a feeling that Hazard’s confidence has been left in the first half of 2015 and, try as they might, Chelsea’s ever-changing coaching staff cannot fathom a way to rediscover it.
Yet if Hazard has any ambitions to be recognised as one of the world’s best now or at any point in the future, he should not need help from those around him to confirm his class.
At this moment, the symbol of Chelsea’s brilliance last season has become an advert for their demise.
Sporting greats don’t run into the kind of brick walls Hazard cannot get around – and now he needs to confirm his worth all over again.