As PFA Player of the Year Eden Hazard headed into this Premier League season, the big question on everyone’s mind was whether the 24 year-old winger could improve further and bring his level to that of Messi and Ronaldo.
Hazard had established himself as one of the best dribblers in the world and one of the most exciting and decisive players in the Premier League.
A creator more than a finisher, Hazard’s final tally was a perfectly acceptable 14 league goals in 38 games for Chelsea. The general consensus however was that he would have to add another 5-10 goals to his game to be considered at the very highest level, especially at the rate Messi and Ronaldo were scoring from similar positions in their teams.
When asked about goal scoring by Sport/Foot Magazine in Belgium, Hazard stayed true to himself, “I ask myself what I can do to become like Messi and Ronaldo, and score 50 or 60 goals in a season. I try but I realise that I will never be a true scorer. It is not in me. It is mainly mental.”
It did not seem like a ridiculous statement at the time. Yet ever since making those comments, Hazard remarkably has failed to score a single league goal in 23 league games this season for Chelsea. As Hazard’s stock has plummeted at the same rate as Chelsea’s this season, he has lived up to his statement a little too literally.
In total, the Belgian has scored only two goals in 32 games in all competitions, a penalty against MK Dons and a goal against City’s reserve team in the FA Cup.
While Hazard does not revolve around scoring goals, it rather sums up what has been a season to forget for the winger.
It is sad that we are almost forgetting just how good Hazard was last season. This is a player whose swerving run away from three Arsenal defenders to draw a foul for a penalty was described by Dominic Fifield in the Guardian as something that “took the breath away.”
There has been no magic of that sort for Hazard this season, who looks lacking both in fitness and focus. This is a concern for a player that has just turned 25 year-old and it is difficult to explain.
Earlier this week, Hazard’s father Thierry said that his son has been mistreated by Chelsea management, who have continued to play Hazard through injury. While this may be a relevant reason for Hazard’s current misfortunes, does it excuse what is now seven months of underperformance for the Belgian?
Hazard has been booed by his own fans against PSG after a listless performance and provoked the ire of Roy Keane for swapping shirts with Angel Di Maria at half-time. “I would kick him up and down the training pitch” Keane said about Hazard’s behaviour. It raised questions over the attitude of Hazard.
Perhaps Hazard set the standard of what to expect of him when he agreed to sign for Chelsea with a teasing, attention-seeking tweet as other teams also battled for his signature. He has been a crowd favourite at Stamford Bridge because of his trickery and creativity but his attitude on the pitch caused tension with previous manager Jose Mourinho.
Hazard appeared to show his displeasure at Mourinho’s insistence that he tracked back several times under his reign, a reasonable request that Mourinho expects from all of his players.
As Mourinho’s reign at Chelsea imploded after the Eva Carneiro dismissal, Hazard did not exactly put in the sort of spirited performances that one would expect from a player who was fully behind his manager. Hazard displayed his displeasure publicly to Mourinho this season, most notably after being substituted against Porto in the Champions League where Hazard blanked him and headed straight for the tunnel.
Hazard’s performances have not significantly changed since Mourinho departed and links to a transfer to Real Madrid and PSG in the summer have not gone away. While his father says that Hazard is committed to Chelsea next season, it looks a lot like his head may have been turned by rumours of elsewhere.
The shocking decline of Hazard this season means that it might be in the best interest of both parties to grant him that wish.