Eden Hazard’s career: Real Madrid, Chelsea, Belgium compared
The Belgian forward has announced his retirement: here’s a look through his career.
Walking through Eden Hazard’s career is like walking through a house of mirrors. Every angle, every way you look, shows you something new from a different, perhaps distorted angle. The Belgian has announced his retirement from football after a career of winning everything there is to win at club level in Europe, after sealing his status as arguably the best player on the continent for a time, after doing literally nothing and stagnating on the bench for half a decade. Fitting all that into one career appears to need TARDIS bigger-on-the-inside physics, but not for Hazard. He did all that and he’s only 32-years-old.
The diminutive winger rose to prominence at Lille, where he had earned a youth contract and moved abroad after being scouted from a local team. Hazard made the first team under then-manager Rudi Garcia, who promoted him permanently into the senior setup, where, simply put, he took the league by storm.
The number 26 shirt was rapidly changed to 10 as his talent became recognised: his stocky body pressed low into the turf somehow helped the ball stay stuck to his toe; squat but powerful piston-powered legs ran at 100 revolutions per second around the pitch, repeatedly fooling defenders into lunging towards empty spaces the player had occupied seconds ago. And his finishing was refined and deadly: the player, in 194 games, scored 50 goals and got 53 assists as his team raced to the Ligue 1 title in the 2010-11 season. Lille also defeated PSG in the 2011 Coupe de France final and the Belgian was quickly named Ligue 1 Player of the Season.
Eden moves to Chelsea
Eden’s move to Chelsea, naturally, was seen as a big-money gamble from a team that spent money like it wasn’t theirs: despite the success that Hazard had seen, the reported fee of around £32 million felt like a lot of cash on a young winger who had not yet played for a top European club.
Like that mattered. Hazard’s first season at Chelsea was the starter dish for what was yet to come, but he definitely left a certain taste in the mouths of the opponents as he repeatedly showed himself to be a tricky, albeit slight, wide player. The goals (9), assists (11) and fouls received (infinite) all came in his debut campaign in England as he showed his extraordinary talent up and down the country. A hamstring injury caused Hazard to miss out on the Europa League Final in 2013, but more chances at continental glory would arrive.
The following season, with Hazard fully aware of the challenge ahead of him, he turned up the dial towards becoming the best player in the league. He was nominated for the Ballon d’Or, the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, losing out to Luis Suárez, but won the Young Player of the Year award. His dribbling had become more impactful on games, and Hazard was now, instead of trying to win penalties, scoring goals himself, and finished the 2013-14 campaign with 14 goals and 3 assists (stats from sofascore.com) as Chelsea finished third. The following year he went on to win his first Premier League title, and Chelsea’s first since 2010. He won the Players’ Player of the Year award after managing to score 14 goals again, this time as the undisputed leader in the side.
He would go on to win another Premier League title as well as an FA Cup and a Europa League with Chelsea, but one standout moment that is not a trophy was his now famous goal against West Ham in the Premier League in April 2019. Hazard takes the ball in the middle of the pitch, around 45 yards from goal. He plunges his low centre of gravity into the ground and rides the fabric of the pitch like a surfer on a wave, swishing from left to right at insane angles, carrying full momentum with him before braking in an instant, watching the defending players fall over as he dances through gaps that simply don’t exist. The run ends inside the West Ham box where a poke with the outside of his right boot is enough to send the ball rolling into the back of the net, in case anyone was wondering if he wasn’t the best player in the division. That sort of form in the Premier League only has one outcome...
The best player in the Premier League moves to Real Madrid
As the heading says, the best player in the Premier League made the move that we all saw as natural, to Real Madrid. Hazard joined Los Blancos in a time where the side were crying out for a wide forward to solidify their place in the side for the next few years after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. Hazard’s signing was a return to the norm: after a couple of seasons of readjustment and projects that never got off the ground, the Belgian winger, who was potentially now the world’s most explosive player, was surely going to push Real Madrid on.
And a look at his honours list certainly backs up that hypothesis: 2 LaLiga titles, 1 Copa del Rey, 1 Spanish Super Cup, 1 Champions League, 1 UEFA Super Cup and 1 FIFA Club World Cup. This is a stunning trophy cabinet, except for the fact that Hazard might be the worst signing in not only Real Madrid’s history, but LaLiga’s as a whole. The Belgian winger played no part in any of the trophies he won as physical issues put his football career in a sealed box and sent it to the past. The winger we saw at Lille and at Chelsea, as if by magic, no longer existed. Flashes of ‘here’s what you could have won’ would have been nice to see, but there are no standout moments of the Belgian in a white shirt. The perfect disappearing trick, and Hazard simply began to stagnate on the bench at the Bernabéu. There have been signings at the club that have not worked, players who have failed to adapt and conquer the 85,000-seater venue in the Spanish capital, but none who have failed to live up to expectations quite like Eden Hazard.
He started 30 times in 4 seasons and played 90 minutes just 27 times, and scored 4 goals in 54 games across four seasons.
The Red Devils
Hazard is regarded as one of the greatest Belgian players of all time, and rightly so. His performances in the 2018 World Cup, when he captained his side to the semi-finals, were superb, with the winger playing a key role in the side’s victory over Brazil to make it to the final four.
Before that, in Euro 2016, he had shone on the international stage, getting four assists, a tournament high, but was eliminated by a resilient Wales team in the Round of 16.
Hazard’s career as a professional footballer changes drastically depending on which angle you perceive it from. One could show him as a tricky, youthful winger, bursting with excitement, potential and talent; another shows him as potentially the world’s best player and easily the best most talented his country has produced in a generation; and then there’s the angle of disappointment, frustration and confusion, one that nobody can quite understand. Despite everything, however you choose to look at it, you don’t forget the other parts, and that means the diminutive Belgian winger with the rough beard that burst onto the scene at the start of the last decade will live on in the memory for a long time to come.
All the stats in this piece come from sofascore.com