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In the grand story of football, where the rise and fall of stars paint the narrative, Eden Hazard wove a chapter that has been compelling and, at times, perplexing. Titled “The Belgian Prince,” Hazard’s journey from the modest beginnings at Lille to the illustrious halls of Real Madrid is a tale of extraordinary talent.

Yet, within the fine print, we see how the relentless weight of expectations and ill luck can lead to unfulfilled promises, even for one who could have been considered a demigod in the game. This is the story of Eden Hazard, the Belgian prince who never became king.

Making Waves at Lille

Hazard’s journey to prominence began far from the glitz of European football, tracing back to his days at Royal Stade Brainois and AFC Tubize. His talent caught the eyes of Lille’s scouts, paving the way for his entry into the club’s academy.

But it wasn’t a fairytale journey because early murmurs about Hazard’s work ethic threatened his time at Lille’s youth development.

The head of the academy, Michel Vandamme, claimed that Hazard’s “unusual sense of play” helped counteract the adverse effects of his less-than-satisfactory work ethic. This talent helped Hazard break into the senior squad in November 2007 — although it took a while before he became a regular starter.

Though opportunities were scarce initially, Hazard’s prowess was on full display. In classic Hazard fashion, he dropped his shoulders, took a feathery touch, and rifled a shot into the far right of the goal. 

This was the genesis of the Belgian brilliance Lille fans were set to enjoy week in and week out.

As the seasons unfolded, so did Hazard’s impact. His goals and assists in crucial matches propelled Lille to the Europa League. And the young player himself took on proverbial wings and soared like Icarius, getting named Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year. 

Debut in Europe and Domestic Double

His performances in the Europa League qualifying rounds, slicing through defenses with dazzling runs and finishing with finesse, showcased a player destined for greatness. Even in defeat, as Lille bowed out to Liverpool, Hazard’s creative brilliance shone through, leaving an indelible mark.

Source: SportsMax

Lille fans will agree that the pièce de résistance came in the 2010-2011 season when Hazard played an immense role in the club’s domestic double triumph. He scored 7 times and set up 11 goals in the Ligue 1, ending the season with 12 goals and 14 assists in all club competitions.

His outstanding performances made Lille’s title-winning campaign memorable. The Belgian wunderkind became the Prince of Lille, leaving an indelible imprint on a club that witnessed the extraordinary rise of a footballing maestro.

His farewell, a hat-trick against Nancy despite the previous night’s revelry, epitomized the magic of Hazard. And it was clear that although the lad was destined for the stars, he was hell-bent on making the journey fun.

Becoming a Chelsea Legend

Eden Hazard’s arrival at Chelsea in 2012 was the genesis of a legacy that would echo through Stamford Bridge for years to come. 

In retrospect, every Chelsea fan believes Roman Abramovich’s £32 million investment in Hazard’s services was repaid several times over — which is a far cry from the recent transfers of Havertz and Lukaku.

The stage was set for his debut. It took the 21-year-old Belgian prodigy only six minutes against Wigan to spice up the opening notes of his Chelsea symphony with a touch of genius.

Like a herald, Hazard had announced his arrival on English soil!

The Belgian Prince could do more than create chances at the drop of a shoulder. His first goal came against Newcastle right after his remarkable performance at Reading. Hazard scored a penalty — something he would do 25 more times throughout his Chelsea career. And just like that, Chelsea fans were sold on the prospects of their new talisman.

Hazard always wore a beaming smile while walking out of the tunnel and on the pitch. His interviews also had that fun element; YouTube is awash with videos of the Belgian being goofy, especially towards Juan Mata, whom he was quite fond of.

The only time this top performer broke character was when he kicked a ballboy in a match against Swansea. 

The player quickly moved on from that chapter in his odyssey after serving his ban and was soon regaling fans with his jaw-dropping dribbles and progressive carries.

Complaints About Eden Hazard’s Work Ethic

While Hazard’s training ethics never improved from his Lille days, he always meant business on the pitch. As fate would have it, a hamstring injury dimmed his presence in the Europa League final, but not before he set the stage ablaze, setting up Lampard’s record-breaking goals.

Watching Hazard paint his career in blue ink alongside The Guv’nor Diego Costa and one of football’s silkiest playmakers, Cesc Fàbregas, was the stuff of dreams. His big-game goals against Manchester City, Liverpool, and PSG showed how he was cut from a different cloth. 

His ability to conjure magic in tight spaces and dance past defenders from his half until he scored continues to haunt Arsenal fans to this day, especially when they remember that glorious goal in 2016/17.

During Eden Hazard’s final year, his 16 goals and 15 assists propelled Chelsea to third place in the league. Hazard’s last home match saw him score against Eintracht Frankfurt. In his final match in Chelsea colors, the Belgian produced a masterpiece in the Europa League final against Arsenal, scoring two and setting up another — a fitting end to a Chelsea era.

Hazard’s journey at Chelsea blended individual brilliance and collective victories. He showcased his versatility and determination in every competition he graced.

In the banter-filled halls of Cobham, Hazard was the charismatic heart, and on the pitch, he was a whisker away from being idolized. Guile, grace, and goals are the recurring words in a legacy etched in Chelsea’s history by a player who turned every touch into a poetic dance.

Downing tools at Chelsea

From the onset, Hazard’s impact was massive. Coming on the back of Chelsea’s iconic 2012 European triumph, he had to fill the shoes of club legends and meet the Blues fans’ high expectations. Yet somehow, the nimble-footed Belgian found a way to become a Stamford Bridge hero.

As the tides of the previous season’s success turned, so did the dynamics, and Hazard again needed to carry the squad on his back. 

The 2015/16 season brought setbacks that saw the Belgian talisman struggle and his familiar flair fade. For the first time in his illustrious career, he grappled not just with staying fit — a nagging hip and groin injury limited his appearances — but also with a crisis of confidence in his abilities. 

His goalscoring elixir lost its potency as Hazard had to wait until after his 30th match to score from the penalty spot. Even his take-ons weren’t as successful as in previous years, with the winger completing 61.81% of his attempts. 

Eden Hazard’s Lasting Impact

One of Hazard’s most memorable moments came with that stunning equalizer against Tottenham, Chelsea’s bitter rivals.

The infamous ‘Battle of the Bridge’ that looked more like a war zone than a football match was sealed when Hazard curled a first-time shot into the top left corner of Hugo Lloris’ goal.

The goal and subsequent draw snatched the league title from Spurs’ clutches, handed it to Leicester City, and reaffirmed Hazard’s status as a Chelsea icon. It was the second consecutive season that an Eden Hazard goal decided which club took the trophy home.

The sizzling strike also won that season’s Chelsea Goal of the Year, as Hazard finished the season with only 4 goals but something more important in the streets of London — bragging rights against Spurs!

Regarding personal accolades, the magic Belgian had the pick of the bunch — that is, on the seasons that he didn’t just decide to take the entire haul. 

  • Chelsea Players’ Player of the Year, 
  • Premier League Player of the Season, 
  • PFA Player of the Year, 
  • FWA Footballer of the Year,
  • Chelsea Goal of the Year (3x).

Eden Hazard Joins Madrid

In June 2019, La Liga had a new poster boy — Eden Hazard, The Belgian King! A hefty €100 million transfer and a subsequent €600,000-per-week salary was enough for Real Madrid to pry him from Chelsea’s hands. Having bid farewell to Cristiano Ronaldo, the Galacticos looked to the Belgian to light the path to their future.

Yet, Hazard’s affair with Madridistas wasn’t a candle-lit love story. Some pundits and fans blame Hazard for neglecting his new role and club and for lacking commitment. He openly confessed to gaining five kilograms during pre-season.

On the pitch, however, Hazard silenced the critics. After a brief bedding-in period, he came in fit and firing by October, with dazzling dribbles and incisive passes that showcased glimpses of his artistry from his Chelsea days.

But it wasn’t to be. The narrative took a fateful twist after the tackle in November altered the course of Hazard’s Madrid chapter.

The Tackle That Changed Everything

On a fateful night in November 2019, Hazard’s Real Madrid battled PSG in a Champions League tie.

In the 62nd minute, with the game still open, Hazard received the ball from Marcelo and tried to beat Meunier with a body feint to the right. The defender lunged with a desperate outstretched leg, attempting to stop the Madrid winger. 

A spin to evade contact, an innocent move, yet fate wrote a cruel script as Hazard’s ankle felt the full force of Meunier’s tackle.

Source: The Sun

The scream Hazard let out as he went to the ground was unusual, and at that moment, Madridstas in the stadium and all around the world sensed that something had gone wrong. That tackle felt different to everyone watching, and time would prove it.

Even as the swelling subsided, medical scans revealed an unwelcome image – a small crack in the player’s ankle. It was a déjà vu, as it required a metal plate, a relic from a similar injury at Chelsea in 2017. The Belgian devil had found his proverbial Achilles heel.

Meunier, the accidental antagonist, not only left a physical scar on Hazard but had enduring repercussions on his psychological state. It stripped him of the springy, hard-to-tackle prowess that defined his prime and marked a sad end to Hazard’s first season with his dream club and, in many ways, his career.

Losing The Killer Mentality

Once upon a time, Eden Hazard was magical, with a killer instinct that sent shivers down the defenders’ spines. His every touch carried the whisper of a potential goal. And the opponents trembled at the mere thought of him in the box.

But football Hazard’s fall from grace wasn’t a gradual decline like a once-vibrant painting losing its colors. It was a sudden death of his prowess. 

Between his fitness issues, the recurring hamstring problems, and the ankle injury against PSG, the killer mentality that once defined Hazard’s game disappeared.

Maybe the weight of expectations in the iconic white jersey or the echoes of the hefty transfer fee played their part. Or he just lacked the motivation to bounce back from such major setbacks.

Whatever the cause, the fans noticed — Madridstas always notice. They stopped backing him and preferred Vini Junior, and in turn, the Belgian mentally checked out of playing for the club and eventually playing altogether.

That trademark smile was gone, along with the dazzling spectacle of a prince who crumbled under the weight of the crown.

Did Eden Hazard fulfill his potential?

Now that he has retired from active football, the answer to this question isn’t as straightforward as the winners’ medals around his neck may suggest. Sure, Hazard won many trophies with Chelsea and Real Madrid, but the tale of what could have been looms large.

Hazard stood shoulder to shoulder with remarkable talents as part of a golden generation. Yet the collective trophy cabinet remained missing a pinnacle achievement — international excellence.

The brilliance of Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne, and other Red Devils never translated into glory for Belgium. Despite coming agonizingly close to winning the 2018 World Cup, the absence of a major international title leaves a lingering “what if” in Hazard’s career.

At the club level, his Chelsea tenure was marked by wins, yet Hazard’s brilliance may have taken him even higher. While he dazzled on the pitch, there’s no arguing that he could have reached the level Messi and Ronaldo occupied, even if for a brief moment.

It’s a paradox — Hazard’s brilliance graced football’s grandest stages. But his potential could have painted an even more spectacular story. The Belgian Prince’s journey, although filled with personal successes, leaves fans contemplating the shades of what could have been.

What’s Next For Eden Hazard?

Football is a game where being mentally strong is just as important as being good with your feet. Eden Hazard had a journey in football — from being tough to play against to being tough to watch — he has had a career most footballers will never replicate.

Many fans didn’t really understand how hard experiencing the ebb of his career was for him. And with many injuries, we shouldn’t have expected him to stay mentally strong.

Like some talented legends of the game before him, The Belgian Prince’s fall from the top happened because he played with a fearlessness that took a toll on his body. He faced vicious kicks and hits until he couldn’t play anymore.

Now, as he thinks about life after playing, Hazard has options. I see him coming back to Sky Sports as a pundit. His infectiously fun personality and witty thoughts about the game could make watching football more enjoyable.

Coaching is another idea. Hazard could teach others what he learned from all those years playing. A generation of young wingers desperately could learn the tricks of the trade in a way only someone who has reached the heights Hazard did can teach.

The game will miss Hazard, the player, but Hazard, the pundit or coach — now that sounds like a captivating encore!

Who wrote this?

Precious is a lover of football, a peddler of banter, the master of all sports, and the practitioner of none. He's spent over 15 years discussing football in pubs and schoolyards.

Precious Agulefo
Precious is a lover of football, a peddler of banter, the master of all sports, and the practitioner of none. He's spent over 15 years discussing football in pubs and schoolyards.

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