Euro 2016 Player Preview: Eden Hazard - Captain Courageous or Mr. Invisible?
Let’s rewind the clock back to 2015, where a certain Belgian made shockwaves in the world of football by becoming the youngest recipient of the ‘PFA Player of the Year’ trophy. His name was Hazard, Eden Hazard. True to his name, he was deemed hazardous by his opponents. Running riots around defenders, pinpoint crossing and accurate shooting were all child’s play to this man. He even had a decent shot at being in the top 5 players for the coveted Ballon d’Or trophy.
What followed next season can be deemed as ‘underwhelming’ at best. Hazard either scored or assisted only 7 times in the 25 games he featured for the London club. Ever since Jose Mourinho made the comparison of Hazard to Cristiano Ronaldo, he saw a meteoric decrease in form with injuries also plaguing him throughout the season.
However, glimpses of the real Eden Hazard were seen in the final few games of the Premier League where he delivered man of the match performances against Tottenham and Liverpool. But, those performances did not help Eden escape from a spot in the ‘2015-16 Premier League Worst XI’.
These unwanted titles did not deter Belgium coach Marc Wilmots from selecting Hazard for the 2016 European Championships. As an added incentive, Hazard was also handed the captain’s armband after Belgium and Manchester City skipper Vincent Kompany was ruled out due to a thigh injury.
“He is decisive, that he serves his quality to the team. Eden is still only 25. He's really looking forward to this European Championship, we need him even a little slow. But he remains a great football player” was the reply of coach Wilmots when the media questioned about Hazard’s form leading into the tournament.
Hazard must forget the previous Premier League campaign and now, must focus on the upcoming European Championships and if Belgium are to mount a title challenge, they will need their talisman to fire all guns blazing.
Position: Left Winger, Central Attacking Midfielder
Strengths: A defender's nightmare, Hazard can dribble at pace. He uses his small stature (5ft 8in) to his advantage, with his low centre of gravity helping him breeze past opposition players. Additionally, the Belgian has an eye for the spectacular and has scored some memorable solo goals. On his day, he can terrorize the strongest of defences.
Weaknesses: Hazard's work-rate and attitude has been questioned by his club and national team bosses. He was heavily criticised by Jose Mourinho after his negative comments about Chelsea's tactics following their Champions League defeat to Atletico Madrid a couple of years back.
Career high: After winning the Ligue player of the year two times in a row, he took the Premier League by storm. He reached his peak in the 2014-15 season, winning the Premier League title with Chelsea and claiming the 2014-15 PFA Player of the Year award.
Career low: The 2015-16 Premier League season. A lot of people expected him to repeat his performances at club level. But, he saw a drastic decrease in form and injuries ruined his season. Even his late season revival was not enough for him to be voted as the ‘Flop of the Season’ by many.
Style: A fearless, explosive attacking midfielder/winger who can change the game with a burst of pace or a skilled dribble.
Quotes: "Eden is technically gifted and very fast. I would take him to Real Madrid with my eyes closed. He can become a great footballer, he is a star of the future." France legend Zinedine Zidane gives Hazard a ringing endorsement.
Belgium are placed in Group E along with Ireland, Italy and Sweden.
Long has it been prophesied that Belgium would rule the world of football. Now, according to FIFA's rankings, they really do. But if this golden generation is to do more than just offer promise and potential, they need to step up and win a title. Much was expected of them in 2014, but they lost to Argentina in the World Cup quarterfinals without ever reaching top gear.
Now it's time for Marc Wilmots' young starlets to come of age. This group offers a great chance to hit their stride quickly. A lot will depend on Eden Hazard’s performances. After a disastrous season for the club, he needs to hit his strides quickly if he wants to save his career from freefall.
Only time will tell whether Eden Hazard is the real deal or is long past his glory days.