Eden Hazard vs. the Swansea Ball Boy Could Be the Making of Chelsea's Cantona
Hazard kicked out at a Swansea ball boy. Was he kicking at the ball under the ball boy? Quite possibly. Was the ball boy trying to waste time? Definitely. Do either of those things excuse, even in part, what he did? Don't be absurd.
For a brief moment at Swansea's Liberty Stadium, Chelsea's £32 million signing behaved like a sloppy Saturday-night reveller trying to get ahead in a taxi queue. He lost his discipline and forgot all sense of responsibility to himself, his teammates and the sport that has made him a millionaire.
But before we put his head upon a spike and hang it on London Bridge, let it be said that in a world where "sorry" is often the hardest word, at least he apologised afterwards.
"The ball boy came in the changing room and we had a quick chat and I apologised and the boy apologised as well, and it is over. Sorry," Hazard told ChelseaTV on Wednesday night.
It's not over, but Hazard's part is played. The Belgian will await further punishment—his reputation is damaged, but he will continue to be a fabulously gifted footballer with the brightest of futures ahead of him.
Hazard will come back from this, just as Eric Cantona did the far worse crime of launching himself into the stands at Crystal Palace. Just as David Beckham did the far lighter crime of kicking out at Diego Simeone at the 1998 World Cup.
Footballers will be forgiven. Not by everybody, but unfailingly by the fans who wear their shirt. For some sections of the Chelsea support, Hazard will be more beloved today than ever. The skewed morals of football fandom dictate things thus, and there's nothing like a perceived victimisation to build a legend.
After what happened at Selhurst Park and the fierce outrage that followed, Manchester United fans gathered around Cantona like a deity. They did the same for Beckham. Liverpool fans have been this way with Luis Suarez, and Chelsea's most loyal still chant John Terry's name loudest of all.
Blind loyalty, they call it. Without it, football would be a less passionate place.
That doesn't excuse the Chelsea fans who were laughing and clapping in the stands as they watched Hazard behave like a spoiled child beneath them. And it doesn't excuse the many who rushed to Twitter to justify Hazard's actions.
But it does help explain where they're coming from. Football fans are loyal to a fault and protect their own as the would their own family.
Hazard will be blanketed in blue. The 22-year-old has proved himself a rare talent already this season, but nothing he's done on the pitch will endear him quite as strongly to the Chelsea faithful as what happened off it at Swansea.
The most blinkered will maintain he did nothing wrong. The majority will accept he made a mistake, but they'll see that mistake as motivated by nothing more than Hazard's burning desire to save a football match. The genius may be flawed, but he's their genius.
To that end, Hazard really can be Chelsea's Cantona. In a moment of madness he bared an unsavoury soul to the world, but it might just be the making of his legend. Chelsea fans already have a cause in Terry, but this one can be fought long after their "captain, leader, legend," has hung up his boots.
Hazard will already be feeling the weight of Chelsea support propping him up. When he returns to the field, he'll feel it like never before. That kind of loyalty can instill a new purpose in a player: a magnified sense that the fans who adore them deserve a greater return.
Beckham was a hate figure when he returned from the 1998 World Cup. Cloaked in the support of Manchester United fans, he proceeded to help his team to the Treble in the season that followed. Cantona came back to win a Double.
The night of Wednesday, Jan. 23, was not the proudest for Chelsea fans, but "ball-boy gate" may yet prove an embarrassment worth suffering. Hazard has had his Cantona moment. If he pays his penance with his dazzling footwork, and with a debt to Chelsea firing him on, we may look back on the incident as the moment that made him.
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