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Dublin: 15 °C Friday 29 May, 2020

The best Premier League player of the last 7 years bows out with fitting farewell

Eden Hazard confirmed after the Europa League win that he was leaving Chelsea.

Chelsea's Eden Hazard celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the UEFA Europa League final at The Olympic Stadium, Baku.
Chelsea's Eden Hazard celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the UEFA Europa League final at The Olympic Stadium, Baku.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

FROM THE OUTSET, it was apparent that Eden Hazard was special.

The young Belgian appeared destined to be a footballer – both his parents played in the Belgian first and second tier of women’s and men’s leagues respectively, while all three of his brothers have played the game at various levels, with Thorgan joining Dortmund for a reported fee of €25.5 million earlier this month.

By the age of four, Hazard was already being described as “gifted”. He played all the way through the Belgian underage ranks and has now amassed a century of senior caps for his country.

Aged 16, he made his professional debut for Lille, back in November 2007, going on to make over 100 appearances in the subsequent five years with the club.

The player made waves in Ligue 1 and as far back as August 2010, Zinedine Zidane said of the player: “Eden is technically gifted and very fast. He will be a major star in the future. I would take him to Real Madrid with my eyes closed.” 

Almost 10 years on, Zidane may finally get his wish of bringing Hazard to Spain, though he arrives not as a promising youngster, but as a fully-fledged world-class performer.

In 2012, he joined Chelsea for €32 million, and his trajectory has remained upward ever since. He won the Europa League in his first season with the club and repeated the feat in what will almost certainly be his last campaign at Stamford Bridge.

In between, there have been two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and one League Cup. Individually, he has won the Premier League Player of the Season (2014-15), Chelsea Player of the Year (2013–14, 2014–15, 2016–17, 2018–19), Premier League Young Player of the Year (2013-14) and Chelsea Goal of the Year (2015-16, 2016-17, 2018-19). He has made the Premier League Team of the Year on four occasions (2012–13, 2013–14,2014–15, 2016–17) and the Uefa Team of the Year twice (2017 and 2018).

This year has been among his best too. In addition to the Europa League triumph and the respectable third-place Premier League finish, not to mention only losing the League Cup final to Man City on penalties, Hazard also won the inaugural Premier League Playmaker of the Year award for most assists and scored 21 goals in all competitions, which is more than in any other season with Chelsea, while finding the net 110 times in total since joining the Blues.

On the international stage too, Hazard has few peers. Though he has yet to win a major trophy with Belgium, it has not been for the want of trying — the attacking midfielder was the top assist provider in both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Yet there is still a sense that Hazard is somewhat underappreciated in certain circles. As exceptional as he is, there are elite players who are more highly thought of. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have of course been operating on a different stratosphere to everyone else in recent times, but even the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé tend to garner more accolades.

Hazard’s best placing for the Ballon d’Or has been eighth, reaching that position in both 2015 and 2018. It is perhaps for these reasons why, as he approaches the prime of his career at 28, he seeks what he described last night as a “new challenge,” with Real Madrid the most likely destination.

In the Premier League though, there has arguably no one better over a seven-year period. There have been players who have had better individual seasons — Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne last year to cite two examples.

There have been individuals with comparable levels of influence — Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and David Silva have been similarly brilliant over a long period of time at City.

There have been more prolific players, such as Tottenham’s Harry Kane and even Belgian team-mate Romelu Lukaku. But in terms of sheer talent and technical ability, it is hard to think of anyone — in England at least — who can trump Hazard, and the irrepressible attacker proved his genius one fitting last time in Chelsea colours, as the Blues clinically took apart a patently inferior Arsenal side in Baku.

Gavan Casey is joined by Murray Kinsella and Sean Farrell for a review of the 2018/19 season, and cast an eye forward to next year and the Rugby World Cup in Japan.:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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