101 And Counting: A Legend In The Making
It had barely been two weeks since Chelsea won their first Champions League Trophy. The date was May 28, 2012. A certain Belgian who went by the name Eden Michael Hazard tweeted this:
I’m signing for the champion’s league winner.
— Eden hazard (@hazardeden10) May 28, 2012
One of the most chased after European stars, at a young age of 22, had decided to join Chelsea. And henceforth, Chelsea confirmed on its website that the club had agreed terms with Lille for the transfer of Hazard for an undisclosed fee. Reported 32 million GBP, he was arguably the highest paid young footballer in the world. On Saturday, he completed 101 Barclays Premier League appearances for Chelsea, scoring 36 goals, and assisting 26. Let’s take a look at the achievements and the journey of Chelsea’s no. 10.
At an early age of four, Eden played for his hometown club, Royal Stade Brainois. He was already popular in the club as a “gifted” player. After eight years, he moved to Tubize. While playing a local tournament, a Lille scout spotted him, and henceforth Eden joined Lille by accepting a youth contract. After a few years in the reserves and B team at Lille, Eden made his professional debut on 28th November 2007 against Nancy in the French Ligue 1. That season he was in and out of the first team, regularly playing in the B side and the U18s. He finished that season with one goal in 11 amateur appearances. In the first team, he had four substitute appearances to his name.
In the next season, he became a permanent in the first team squad and has never looked back since. With 50 goals in 194 appearances for Lille, he was the main man responsible for Lille’s golden period. He also has the unique record of making more than 100 consecutive Ligue 1 appearances. The world slowly started to notice the twinkle-toed Belgian in the following seasons. Hazard went on to win 2 Young player of the year awards, 2 Player of the year awards and appeared in Ligue 1’s team of the season thrice in a row. His team, Lille, also won a French double in 2010-11. Needless to say, he dribbled them to it.
After joining Chelsea, Hazard had a good start in the 2012-13 campaign managed by the then Chelsea manager, Roberto Di Matteo. He made his debut against Manchester City in the Community Shield, which Chelsea lost 3-2. A week later, he made his league debut against Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium. In the contest, Hazard provided an assist and won a penalty, endearing himself to the fans. He made his Stamford Bridge debut in the team’s next fixture, against Reading on 22 August, winning yet another penalty, and getting two assists. Three days later, Hazard scored his first goal as a Chelsea player in the team’s league match against Newcastle United by scoring a penalty.
Hazard showed why he was rated so highly, by performing at a very high level in the following weeks and months.
“I’ve said to him he has got absolutely everything. He’s only 22, he has the world at his feet and with the way he’s playing and the ability he has on the ball, he is scaring the life out of people.” – Frank Lampard on Hazard, March 2013
He finished that season with 10 goals and 13 assists in all competitions. He also had 103 successful dribbles completed, which was highest in the Premier League. The only criticism he faced was that he wasn’t consistent enough. He usually had 2-3 good games, and then would become anonymous in the next two. Nevertheless, he was named in the PFA Team of the Year for the 2012-13 season, which was an impressive achievement, considering the fact that this was his first season in English football. Chelsea also won the Europa League, which was his first European Trophy.
The start of the 2013-14 season marked the return of Jose Mourinho,”The Special One” to Stamford Bridge. Hazard was average in the first few games of the season. His big moment came in the UEFA Super Cup, against the reigning European Champions, Bayern Munich. He beautifully set up the first goal, providing the secondary assist; and scored a wonderful solo goal, against the likes of Philipp Lahm and company. He was praised for his performances, although Chelsea lost that match 5-4 on penalties.
On 4th December 2013, Eden Hazard was on his individual best, scoring 2 and assisting 1 in a crazy 4-3 victory against Sunderland, which made the Sunderland Manager to comment,
“Eden Hazard was outstanding. He was unplayable, as a manager I haven’t come up against anyone like that.”
On 8th February 2014, Hazard again showed why he was so good, by scoring a stunning hat-trick against Newcastle United at the Bridge. He finished that season with 17 goals and 7 assists in all competitions.
He had improved his all-round ability but was publicly criticized by Jose Mourinho for not tracking back, which led to Chelsea being knocked out of the Champions League Semi-Finals. His consistency was also questionable though improved. He still knew that he had to improve, which he publicly acknowledged after winning the Chelsea Player of the Year award in May 2014. He also won the PFA Young Player of the Year award and was in the team of the year for the season 2014-15.
The start of the 2014-15 season wasn’t all that good from Hazard although he was heavily involved in the build-up to most goals at the beginning of the season, which marked the influence of Fabregas and Costa as the main players. He scored seven goals and had seven assists in the first half of the season. But as the season went by, Hazard seemed to find himself getting better and better and is arguably carrying the team for the last two months. In the last 10 games, Hazard has had five goals and four assists, with all of them coming from different matches. This proves how Hazard is certainly improving fast. His dribbles per game are at a very high 4.8.
In fact over the last two seasons, Hazard has completed a staggering 254 dribbles, just four short of Leonel Messi, the highest in Europe. He has a high pass percentage of 87% in the league. He is also the most fouled player in Europe, ahead of Messi and Ronaldo. His all-round ability has also improved, which has enabled Jose to build the team around the little Belgian. Hazard lifted the Capital One Cup trophy by beating Tottenham in the final at Wembley.
“On his day, nobody can stop him. He has such great quality on the ball. He can create something from nothing, and this is the sign of a special player.” – Thierry Henry on Hazard, March 2015
With five games to go and Chelsea having already (almost) wrapped up the league, Hazard’s tally in goals and assists is currently 18 and 15 respectively. Unsurprisingly, he has been nominated for the PFA Player of the Year in which he is odds on favorite to win. We can certainly see him having 20 goals+20 assists this season by the time he gets his first Barclays Premier League winners Medal.
Hazard has recently signed a long-term contract this season, which makes us realize that he is only 24, and will most likely be among the top 3 world footballers in the future. The expectations are very high; so far he has been living up to it. Can he continue? I guess we can only know in the forthcoming seasons. For now, let us sit back and enjoy the talents of an absolutely sensational footballer and feel proud that he is playing for Chelsea.
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Edited By: Ojas Tripathi