“You should never ask him to pull the plough. He needs to relax, play carefree” – Piet de Visser on Eden Hazard.
To celebrate SW6 reaching the historic milestone of 10K followers I’ve taken it upon myself to write a two-part special on a player that at his very core is a footballing purist, a servant of the stepover, a follower of all flicks and tricks. It’s, of course, Eden Hazard. A player that strolled through Stamford Bridge with a precocious elegance about his game, Hazard simply oozed a nonchalant swagger reminiscent of a Joe Cole or Dennis Bergkamp. For Hazard, it has always been about an appeal. About beauty. About delighting in the ferocity of a scuttling dribble, an effortlessly executed flicked pass to a team-mate or a finish planted beyond a helpless, grief-stricken goalkeeper. The Belgian epitomizes the simple pleasures in football, never one to be overly concerned with goal output or individual recognition, Eden orchestrated the game with a childlike innocence that can still be felt at Stamford Bridge to this day.
The Early Years 2012/2016
His arrival at Chelsea signified a changing of the guard. Fresh off the highs from their victory in Munich, the Chelsea hierarchy managed to, alongside then-current teammate Joe Cole, seductively persuade the young Belgian to snub Manchester for the King’s Road. Hindsight grants the initial £32 million a degree of satisfaction given the player Hazard would turn into. However, such a price pre-Neymar to PSG certainly raised a few eyebrows. Sir Alex Ferguson miserly stated that “It’s all about what you think is value for a player. I am not envious of those deals at all. We placed a value on Hazard which was well below what they were talking about. So if it doesn’t work, well we’re not worried about that. We think we’ve got good value in [Shinji] Kagawa.” By today’s standards, £32 million is pocket change for a generational talent like Eden, but was Kagawa the answer to missing out on the Belgian? It’s difficult to sugar coat that one Sir Alex.
Eden’s price tag certainly didn’t show any signs of tormenting the young winger during his debut season. Despite the managerial merry go round in full effect during this time, Hazard still managed to score 9 and assist 11 premier league goals. With noteworthy strikes against Manchester United and Sparta Prague (in the Europa League), the latter being a simply ruthless finish into the top corner finalising a typical mesmerising run. Supporters will regard Eden’s first season in the English top-flight as the beginning of a blossoming partnership between himself and Chelsea cult hero Juna Mata. This irresistible relationship between the two playmakers was authored through the distribution of eye of the needle accuracy, unpicking packed defences, and direct counter-attacking play. Under the stewardship of the abhorred Rafa Benitez, the pair managed to get the then wayward Fernando Torres scoring once again, with standout victories over Norwich (4-1), Tottenham (4-2), Manchester United (5-4), Aston Villa (8-0), Southampton (5-1) and Stoke (4-0). The 21-year-old Belgium international would later cite Mata as the player he most cherished playing alongside, theirs being a meeting of footballing minds and mastery.
Hazard’s second season was one spearheaded by the returning Jose. The well-versed Portuguese manager admired the diminutive forward and after the winger had nailed down a spot in the starting eleven, felt the need to protect him.
Once suggesting that the club employ engineers to construct special shin pads that might also protect Hazard’s calves. Hazard being of a more pragmatic nature humorously stated that the judo classes his parents insisted he took as a child taught him how to fall safely when colliding with opposition defenders.
The relationship with Jose was very much a paternal one. Often Jose would be seen putting an approving arm round the young winger after games and methodically explaining how he desired Eden to attack. However, Jose like Conte and to some degree Sarri after him, all harbour an air of frustration towards Eden. When asked to draw up comparisons between Ronaldo and Messi, Jose stated that both “are also top goalscorers, of course, and that makes them even more special. Eden is a winger, a pure winger, so I don’t think it’s possible for Eden to be the top scorer in the league. That normally affects people’s judgement”. The desire to mould and carve out a pure goal machine from a player primarily concerned with the sheer enjoyment of the game is simply not possible. The fun-loving nature of Eden accompanied by a persistent hip injury would be one of the many nails in the 2015/16 Jose coffin. Mourinho was subsequently sacked due to a “palpable discord with the players” according to the then club technical director, Michael Emenalo. Upon the dismissal of Jose, the friendly face of Guus Hiddink was ushered in to bring some stability to the quite obviously broken dressing room, which the Dutchman characteristically did. Despite this quelling of the storm, it was evident that the powers that be at the club craved a superstar manager and Guss was subsequently replaced by the notorious Antonio Conte… More on this in part two.
To summarise Eden’s early years at Chelsea I’d say he showed an intense promise like no other during this period. The abundance of trickery and skill was clear for all to see and with one League Title a Europa league and a Capital One Cup to match, the sky was very much the limit for Hazard.
Written by Charlie Castillo @_CGCastillo
Edited by Jai Mcintosh @jjmcintosh5