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“I am not here to be a star, to show off.”

“I am here to play for the others. I am not the new Messi. I am Eden Hazard.” Eden Hazard, Chelsea.

Eden Hazard: Overrated or one of a kindCareer overview

Eden started playing football at the age of four, joining his local club Royal Stade Brainois. He spent 8 years there before joining Tubize where he was scouted by Lille and subsequently offered a youth contract.

By May 2007, Hazard had signed a professional contract with Lille after only being with the club for two years. He made his first start for Lille’s reserve side against Lesquin in the fourth tier of French football, aged just 16. In November, Hazard made his debut for Lille against Nancy, coming on as a substitute.

In the 08/09 season, Hazard was called up to Lille’s first team and given his own squad number. Hazard made his debut for Belgium in a friendly against Luxembourg in November, after declining French citizenship. After a string of good performances that season, Hazard was awarded with the UNFP Young Player of the Year – becoming the first ever international player to win the award.

The following season was when Hazard really started to gain wider recognition. The Belgian was linked to the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid, with Zinedine Zidane even going as far as personally recommending him to the Spanish giants. Hazard played in every league game that season scoring five goals and getting seven assists, the second highest in the league. Hazard won the Young Player of the Year award for the second year running, becoming the first player to do so.

Anti-climatically, Hazard started the 2010/11 season badly. Inconsistency meant that he was dropped from the Lille starting XI as well as the Belgian national side and was criticised for his lazy mentality and poor training efforts. Hazard managed to recapture his form, sighting the criticism he received as vital to his development and helping his Lille side win the league and cup double. These honours made him the youngest ever winner of the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award.

Hazard’s final season at Lille would turn out to be the most successful. He finished the season with a staggering 20 league goals to his name and reclaimed the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award. In his last game for Lille, against the side he made his first appearance for – Nancy – Hazard recorded his first professional hat-trick.

After much speculation about who Hazard would be signing for in the following summer, he officially announced via his Twitter account that he would be “signing for the European champions”, who at the time were Chelsea.

Hazard made his league debut for Chelsea away to Wigan on the opening day of the season, in which he got an assist and won a penalty. Hazard scored his first league goal for Chelsea against Newcastle, converting a penalty. After scoring a stunning left footed goal against Stoke, Hazard would find himself in the news for kicking a ball boy trying to waste time in a League Cup match against Swansea.

In May 2013, Hazard set up the assist for Frank Lampard to become Chelsea’s all-time top goal-scorer. He later missed Chelsea’s Europa League final game due to a hamstring injury, a game the Blues ended up winning.

Hazard won Chelsea’s Player of the Season award and was nominated for PFA’s Player and Young Player of the Year awards in an impressive debut season in the Premier League.

Hazard’s second season at Chelsea was arguably more successful. His most notable performances came against Sunderland – where he scored twice, Newcastle – in which he scored his first Premier League hat-trick and at the Etihad Stadium – which prompted manager Jose Mourinho in dubbing him the best young footballer in the world.

Hazard won the PFA Young Player of the Year award and finished runner up behind Luis Suarez for PFA Player of the Year after scoring 14 league goals. The Belgian also won Chelsea’s Player of the Year for the second consecutive year.

Despite his undoubted talent, the question does arise if he is overrated. After all, can he honestly be compared to the greats of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi? Is he the same type of player?

Some hazardous stats

The debate circling Eden Hazard at present is whether he is overrated or if he is actually one of the world’s greats. There is no doubt the Belgian has bags of talent but his goals/assists output and overall impact at Chelsea has come under scrutiny since his arrival in London.

Since arriving at Chelsea, Hazard has played 138 games, scoring 35 goals (as of 1st December) – meaning he has an average of one goal in every four games. Considering that this is not from a striker but rather from a young, creative winger/midfielder playing in a very competitive league this statistic splendidly works to his favour. Especially when he has 28 assists and 187 chances created to his name since his arrival.

Bad comparison

The common follow-up would be to compare these figures to that of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Many get drawn into the trap that Hazard is a similar type of player to the aforementioned but upon looking closely, they are not of the same mould.

On comparing Hazard to Messi their only real similarities are their close control with the ball, their low centre of gravity and their ability to bounce off incoming challenges. Messi (at least in recent years) has been deployed as a striker in a team that creates chances for fun. A player like Neymar is a much more suitable comparison; someone of the same age, position and play style. Going back to the Messi comparison, the Argentine plays in a league which is no way near as competitive as the Premier League. Now, Messi by no means has it easy and this does not imply Eden Hazard would be just as good if they played in the same environment, but the nature of his position within the Barcelona team and the overall strength of La Liga opposition gives Messi a huge advantage when it comes to scoring goals.

If Hazard cannot be compared to Messi in the same vein as the Argentine has never experienced the Premier League, then is it warranted to compare him to Ronaldo who has played in England?

Ronaldo made 292 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions; scoring 118 goals and averaging a goal every 2.4 games, an amazing figure. Ronaldo, much like Hazard, played on the wing for United but managed to be far more effective in front of goal. However, what is so different about Ronaldo that made him so much more prolific?

The power of mentality

When you think of the current world’s best; Messi, Ronaldo, Sergio Aguero, Thomas Muller, Alexis Sanchez (to name a few) – they all have one thing in common – an attribute that truly defines a great player – the right mentality.

The hunger to win, the drive to perform well week in week out, an arrogance that helps them stand out amongst the rest is all shaped by a player’s mentality.

Eden Hazard does not seem to have that same mentality, at least not yet. Being a Chelsea fan myself and watching him perform every single week allows me and fans of the same ilk to notice just how stop-start he is. When the going gets tough, Eden struggles to get going. He is, in some ways, a fair-weathered footballer.

That is down to his mentality, not necessarily talent. Ludicrous as it may sound, Hazard is too modest to go out there and grab the game by its throat like a Ronaldo, or even a Messi. He’d rather play a teammate in than score himself, and unfortunately for him, that will not get him the Ballon d’Or.

Cutting edge

Fans or regular spectators of Eden Hazard will realise that he has a very unique style to his game. Unlike Arjen Robben or Angel di Maria, who thrive off pace and counter attacks, Hazard often chooses to slow the game down, sometimes to a complete stand-still.

Every so often this works, allowing for support from his teammates further up the field. There is no one better, not even Lionel Messi, at beating his man from a standing start than Hazard.

However, the problem with slowing the play down is that it makes it harder for himself (and for his team) to get a shot off at goal as the opposition has time to settle into defensive positions. Perhaps most notably against Manchester United this season, Hazard had several chances when leading 1-0 to counter attack but was too slow on the ball and the opportunity was wasted. This is the cutting edge that is absent from Hazard’s game, the ruthlessness needed to finish teams off, to want to get on the score-sheet.

It’s not all about goals

As mentioned above, it may be unfair to compare Hazard with the world’s greatest duo on some standards, but it may hold true on others.

According to Squawka, Eden Hazard created 92 chances last season in the Premier League, scoring 14 goals. Comparing this to Messi, who created 75 chances and scored 28 goals and Ronaldo who created 47 chances and scored 31 in La Liga it makes you wonder how far Hazard really is behind these two.

Football is not all about scoring goals; just look at Andres Iniesta who has fewer career goals than John Terry. Players can only score goals if others create the chances to do so. Although Hazard’s goal output is no way near as high as the La Liga stars he has created more chances for himself and his team than they have. It is only natural for Ronaldo to get more plaudits for scoring than what Hazard does for creating, especially when his teammates aren’t converting his crafted chances.

So what is holding Eden back from greatness?

Mourinho’s shackles

In this day and age, players are noticed only for their goals and their ability to stand out. The legends of the sport; Pele, Maradona, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Henry and Zidane all had one thing in common, and that was complete freedom on the football pitch. A freedom that let them play to their strengths, to follow the ball which augmented their cause in standing out amongst the rest.

Unfortunately for Hazard, he does not have that luxury in Mourinho’s Chelsea team. The Portuguese boss believes in discipline, defending as a unit and perhaps most importantly – equality. In a typical Mourinho-team there is neither a star player nor individuals. In all of his teams across the years, Mourinho has only faced one player who broke that trend – Cristiano Ronaldo. The collapse of Mourinho’s Madrid empire was largely down to conflict with the Galactico himself. Disagreement with Mourinho’s key principles as well placing himself ahead of his teammates meant a relationship with ‘The Special One’ would never last.

After being openly criticised by his manager after the defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final last season for switching off in the defensive third, Hazard is progressing well into becoming a more all-rounded player. The Belgian is learning to track back and put a shift in for the team, to be disciplined in the attacking third of the pitch and most importantly he is putting the team first, despite the cost of individual gain.

Eden for the top – Final verdict

Eden Hazard is not overrated per se, but is rather wrongly compared to some of the world’s greats owing to their vast differences of style and experience.

Despite his young age, Hazard has already won a wealth of personal accolades and the likelihood of him winning major honours with Chelsea under Jose Mourinho’s guidance looks good; honours that truly define a great player.

Although not as proficient at scoring goals as the world’s current best, Hazard can create more chances than the majority of them and whether it is he who converts these or his teammates, the Belgian will only get better, with or without the plaudits.

Originally published at crazyaboutepl.com

Post written by Louis
for Crazy About EPL, Blog: Crazy About EPL, Twitter: @CrazyAboutEPL

Note: The views expressed within this blog post are those of the contributing author, and may not necessarily reflect those of MatchDayApp Limited, its representatives or associated partners.

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