Why Has Eden Hazard Fell From The Grace Of Being The Premier League’s Best Player?
By Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven)
Eden Hazard was presented a rare opportunity on Tuesday night. It has been claimed of late that the Belgian doesn’t really want to be at Chelsea right now, with Paris Saint-Germain reported suitors. And so with Chelsea facing PSG this week he had the chance to dispel such suggestions. But true to form, he looked every bit fed up with life at his current club.
Indeed, in the post-mortem that will surely follow the wreckage of this season at Stamford Bridge, Hazard will be pinpointed as a primary protagonist. The Belgian was not so long ago billed as the Blues’ defining figure, but he has – at best – been found on the peripheries this season. He warrants more blame than most for what has gone wrong at Chelsea since last May.
Yet Hazard has still been touted as a potential transfer target for some of Europe’s biggest and best clubs, despite his dismal season to date. PSG have long been tipped as the Belgian’s biggest fans, with Chelsea reportedly fending off interest from the French Ligue 1 champions last summer. Real Madrid are also expected to make a play for Hazard, should he become available.
The player himself is playing up such speculation, once again adding fuel to the fire just days before Tuesday night’s Champions League clash at the Parc des Princes. “[It would be] difficult to say no to PSG, or to any of the teams capable of winning the Champions League,” Hazard told Le Parisien earlier this week. PSG are now in that category. And for me, winning the Champions League is my main aim.”
But why would a club like PSG be interested in a player like Hazard, at least on current form? The 25-year-old has acted like a spoiled brat at times this season – not least on Tuesday evening in the French capital. What could possibly make Real Madrid think that Hazard is worthy of becoming their next ‘Galactico’?
Perhaps English soccer as a whole was guilty of building up Hazard too much in the first instance. The Belgian was seen as the shining star of the last Premier League campaign – winning the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year awards – yet he only notched 14 goals over nine appearances, scoring just twice in the Champions League as well.
In an age where the Premier League is lacking in true era-defining stars – like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi – perhaps Hazard was propelled to such a level out of desperation. English soccer wanted the Belgian to be their new billboard face after the high-profile sales of Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez, and in truth he wasn’t ready for it.
Of course, it’s important to note that Hazard enjoyed an exceptional season last term. Some of the acclaim might have been over-blown in sections, but the former Lille man was probably deserving of his individual awards. However, that may have been the result of a weak field more than anything else.
Hazard appears to lack the resilience of the sport’s true greats. A player of a stronger mindset would be sparked by his side’s struggle on all fronts, and yet the Belgian has looked positively deflated by Chelsea’s turgid 2015/16 campaign. Such weakness hardly lends itself to the type of clubs Hazard quite blatantly wants to attract.
Jose Mourinho might have played a role in Hazard’s downturn too. Despite his bullish public persona, the wide-man still needs preserving, and it could be the case that the Portuguese coach simply asked too much of his most inherently talented player. Was he asked to play too much football?
Whatever the reason for his decline, Hazard must be wary of how his recent performances are affecting his value. His attitude is having an even greater impact on his reputation, though. The Belgian would be wise to dismiss his own hype, because that hype has long dissipated.