Gliding across the pitch like a skater on ice. Deceiving opponents with moves that seemed only possible in FIFA Street. Eden Hazard was an artist whose career was sprinkled with the highest of highs only to end in the deepest valley.
Hazard shouldn’t have had to retire at the age of 32. He should have been continuing to terrorize backlines across Europe, not retreating to retirement.
Very few players have had a meteoric rise like Hazard. The Belgian went from a Ligue 1 hidden gem to a superstar in London. All the success and joy he brought eventually ended in one of the largest failed transfers in football history.
Memories of Hazard skipping past players with one little move will forever be etched into the brains of any football fan. It’s a shame that fans will only remember his later years when he was one of the ten best players on Earth. For a good four years, Hazard was the best player to not play in La Liga.
Perhaps it’s too early to cast any sort of judgment on his career mere days after it ended. If anything, Hazard’s journey will always leave us asking what if?
What if the Belgian had stayed with Chelsea for his whole career? What if he had left for Real earlier to best replace Ronaldo?
All these what ifs serve as a why to imagine things ending better. A future where the mercurial talent is allowed to ride off into the sunset. Not just accept that no team will ever want him again and disappear.
There’s this sick irony about Hazard winning the Champions League with the club that he dreamed of playing for. By the time he put the winners medal on his neck, the Belgian’s career was all but over.
A dream move to the Bernabéu had turned into sand slipping through his hands. Injuries and continuous disciplinary issues pushed him to be Bale’s companion buried deep on the Madrid bench. Neither Ancelotti or Zidane found any use for an oft-injured winger who could never fit into the way the team wanted to play.
Across his 70+ games with Real, the former ballon d’or favorite would leave the Spanish capital with only seven goals. Accompanied with an inflated transfer fee, this will go down as one of the worst transfers in recent memory.
A little over five years ago, Hazard had just electrified fans at the 2018 World Cup and was just behind Messi and Ronaldo. The world was at his feet and he could and should have pushed for a move then. Perhaps then we could have avoided seeing the shell of himself roll around Spain.
That’s the memory that we are all left with. A player who was so broken by the time he achieved his dreams that he could never enjoy attaining them.
Even with all this said, Hazard got to live a dream that all youngsters can only imagine. He won as much as anyone and pushed his club and country forward. While everyone wishes they could see the Chelsea Hazard, the player himself is at peace with who he is.
At his peak, Hazard was the ultimate modern footballer. A player who effortlessly combined grace and flair with great physical tools.
Chelsea fans were delighted week in and week out with skills akin to a magician’s sleight of hand. A step over dazzled both fans and opponents alike, as he would cut in onto his favored right foot. Be it a simple pass to Diego Costa or a curved shot on target, give Hazard an inch and he’d take a mile.
Wicked curved balls allowed him to terrify keepers and be a threat to either create or shoot. Again, this is what made him jump to the forefront of Europe’s elite.
He arrived on the scene at the perfect time for his game. As old school wingers and number 10s were being phased out, the era of the inverted winger was here. Hazard’s development in France highlighted the emerging trend.
Wingers now needed to be both creative like classic number 10s and lethal when they cut in on their favored foot. No more could they just ping crosses into the box, Hazard understood that and more. Even as the game developed, it was never a matter of Hazard needing to fit in like James Rodriguez, it was more needing to stay healthy and disciplined.
In a lot of ways, Hazard’s career resembles Neymar’s. Both players burned so bright and so young by being on the forefront of a new trend. Now, both superstars are no longer relevant with each of them being retired in their own way.
Prem fans have seen so many greats passing through their league, but Hazard was a truly special one. The magician had his show and was performing to the world. But in an instant, the show was over and the magician was gone.
Featured image: Sky Sports