“Yes. I think Thibaut first. Then I will sign.”
The above was the response Eden Hazard gave on January 11th when questioned on whether or not he would sign a new contract with Chelsea. His current contract has two years remaining, but based on the words of the man himself he plans to extend his stay in London. However, following a loss away to Watford coupled with a long-standing interest from Real Madrid and news suggesting Man City have an interest in him, maybe it’s time Hazard starts to think a bit selfishly.
Having just turned 27 (wasn’t he just 23 the other day), Hazard is now entering what is usually the prime for footballers. Yet there still exist questions about just how he ranks in relation to other top talents in the game.
“I’m much younger than them (Messi, Ronaldo). They have won things that I haven’t. But I’m as good as they were at my age. If I want to be like them I need to win trophies” – Eden Hazard, February 2014
It’s almost four years to the day since Hazard said the above, yet how close has he come to emulating either of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo? Medals in the form of two League titles and a League Cup have been added to Hazard’s cabinet, but he surely hasn’t won trophies like those two.
Messi: Two La Liga titles, Three Copa Del Reys, a Champions League, a UEFA Super Cup a Club World Cup and two Spanish Super Cups.
Ronaldo: La Liga title, three Champions Leagues, three Club World Cups, two UEFA Super Cups, a Copa Del Rey and a Spanish Super Cup.
And while you could forgive him a smidge for not being able to match the trophy cabinets of two of the greatest ever we can’t ignore the fact that there might be some truth to suggestion that his footballing talents promise a certain level of production that he has often failed to match. No one has ever demanded Hazard score at a Messi or Ronaldo level, but it is a bit alarming to note that his equalizing goal against Watford was ‘just’ his 67th goal for Chelsea in the EPL. His 20 goal season at Lille remains the only time he’s scored 20 goals in a league campaign.
The flip side to the argument is that with a better platform Hazard would perform better. Two of Hazard’s last four seasons have been ones where shenanigans off the field disrupted performances on them, but even an optimally performing Chelsea team doesn’t play the type of football you would expect a player like Hazard to thrive in. Too often, whether Chelsea were performing or not, it’s been Hazard on a field surrounded by a bunch of functional and effective players waiting for him to deliver genius. That was him against Watford and he delivered only for his team to then collapse and let in three more to render his magic useless. Messi has had maestros such as Dani Alves, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Luis Suarez and Neymar. Ronaldo has had maestros such as Marcelo, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. Both have been blessed with managers who elect to attack and take the game to their opponents to dominate. Hazard has never been that lucky.
This summer will see Hazard take the field with former Chelsea player Kevin De Bruyne and no one would begrudge him if he felt a bit of jealousy towards his teammate. After all, De Bruyne is playing for an attacking beast that has drawn admirers from all corners, and he will be sporting a EPL medal and the title of the best player in the English Premier League. Imagine Hazard playing in a team like City’s. One hopes he himself is imagining that, because it would be a shame if his prime years were wasted at a club that appear to always be looking to take steps back after moving forward.