In the career of any prodigy, the athlete in question will always find him/herself having to live up to the standards of the footballing greats that came before them—Eden Hazard is no different.
The former Lille whizkid is very much the flavor of the month after getting off to such a terrific start at Chelsea, but a long road lies ahead.
Whenever one hears of a debate over who the best player in the world is, you’ll rarely ever hear any other names than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The La Liga pair are looked upon as the exemplary in modern-day football, but Hazard is not far off that grade, and will soon join their holy ranks.
Hazard in his younger Lille days
Perhaps the biggest factor working in Hazard’s favor is his age. The Belgian starlet has been spoken of in such high regard for so long now that it’s easy to forget he’s still only 21 years old.
Having first emerged as a prodigy during his days at Lille, it’s remarkable to think that the attacker has another six or seven years before he heads into what is commonly seen as a player’s prime.
That being said, you wouldn’t guess Hazard was barely out of his teens by the manner in which he goes about his business.
In his first three league appearances for Chelsea, the starlet earned an insane six assists, leading the Blues to the head of the English top flight.
Already contributing a total that some players do in entire seasons, the player will be up there with the best in no time if he carries on in his current vein of form.
Kicking it with the best
The popular saying goes: “To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”
On so many occasions we have heard of an emerging prospect in leagues far and wide, but when it comes to cutting it with the cream of the crop, standards suddenly slip.
By no means is Ligue 1 a mediocre division, but the true extent of Eden Hazard’s powers were always going to be judged by the fashion in which he performed at Chelsea.
Following his £32m summer arrival, the Belgian is quickly justifying that price-tag and would appear to be succeeding in a climate that so many would-be stars have failed in the past.
Just as Ronaldo had to prove himself at Sporting Lisbon before nearing his playing best with Manchester United, Hazard has translated his abilities from Lille and is now improving them at Stamford Bridge.
Hazard: Capable in all areas
Look at all legendary outfield players and you’ll probably notice that the vast majority were never specific to playing in just one position.
A near limitless amount of circumstances during the season will alter a team’s selections, and if you can’t rely on your best players to help you in these times of crisis, you can’t rely on anyone.
During his time at the Stade Lille Metropole, Hazard stood out like a sore thumb and the youngster became Rudi Garcia’s “go-to guy” in times of strife.
If ever there were an injury or absence, Hazard was there to fill in where needed and continues to do so under Roberto Di Matteo.
Having already functioned on either wing, attacking midfield and elsewhere, Hazard has also shown his ability to play off the striker, or even up front himself.
This positional malleability is the sign of a footballing great, and attacking players limited to one style of play can often be predictable in their approach.
Hazard: Strong from all angles
A massive help in Hazard being so versatile is of course his ability to use both feet.
While plenty of wingers are capable of attacking down either flank, you’ll find a host of these players will need to cut inside to shift onto a favorable foot.
This limits the efficiency of goal provision and while some wide men may thrive in these conditions, it makes their movements a whole lot easier to forecast.
For Hazard, this isn’t a problem. Just like Ronaldo and Messi before him, the Chelsea talisman is a threat from either side and can create scoring opportunities for himself or others out of what seems like thin air.
A large number of players at the elite level can use both feet, but only a certain minority can boast that they are truly ambidextrous.
Given Hazard’s age, you can only bet that this ability will improve as he plays, too.
A shifty character
A trademark of any attacker to go down in the history books, speed is often king and as Ricky Bobby once said: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
The crazy thing about Hazard is that while he’s undoubtedly nippy without the ball, he seems to be able to run almost as quickly while dribbling.
It doesn’t take a genius to notice this particular trait that both Ronaldo and Messi hold, and is arguably the most potent weapon the three hold in common.
Able to drift past defenders with the greatest of ease, this pace allows Hazard to get into positions quicker than the opposition can catch up, immediately creating the chance to score.
Several of Hazard’s assists in this early season run have come from the player earning penalties for his side by drawing fouls. Put simply, defenders have almost no choice but to foul the forward after he prods the ball away from where it was a millisecond ago.
The prodigy isn’t selfish enough to limit the use of his speed in attack however, and is always willing to chase back and tackle if he must, catching up with his opponent more often than not.
In the modern age, technology and social media have made it so that by the time a new superstar rises, we’ve already known about him for the past three years.
Hazard certainly falls into this category and people have spoken about the prodigy being “the next this” and “the next that” for some time now.
What this means is that with the amount of coverage football now receives, seldom will a player live up to the standards of existing stars without being forecasted to do so.
Eden Hazard has been forecasted to do so.
Peers, managers and pundits in France and his native Belgium have already expressed the sentiment that Hazard resembles Messi in his style of play and it’s no coincidence the players are the exact same height (5’7”).
The next big thing?
While it’s debatable whether or not nationality can have an influence on a player’s chances of becoming great, it would certainly seem to not affect one’s chances by coming from a successful country in that sport.
Brazil, Spain and Germany are just some of the countries to have what is seemingly an endless supply of talent and it’s an odd coincidence that Eden Hazard is spearheading Belgium’s rise in the global estimations.
The Europeans are being tipped to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and it’s no wonder with the amount of talent they’ve nurtured in recent years.
To name but a few, Axel Witsel, Jan Vertonghen, Kevin Mirallas, Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke and Moussa Dembele all earned big-money moves in the last year.
That isn’t to mention existing talents like Marouane Fellaini, Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Simon Mignolet and Thibaut Courtois.
To summarise, you can expect to see Belgium taking a firmer grip on the national stage in coming years, and it’s only right that Eden Hazard leads the assault.
You can follow Tom on Twitter @TomSunderland_