Last weekend, the Belgian was the star player in Chelsea's 3-0 win over Newcastle, in which he scored all three goals. The outstanding performance prompted manager Jose Mourinho to call him the "best young player in the world." Even opposing manager Alan Pardew tipped his hat to him.
The Special One, however, was careful not to inflate the importance of his No. 17, stopping short of comparing him with the "monsters" of the game: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The Independent quotes:
I don't want to compare him with the monsters, because the monsters have 10 years of career, winning trophies, scoring goals; I think it's not fair for the monsters and it's not fair for the kid to make that comparison.
Hazard himself has shown no such reticence to make the comparison, though. In an interview with French daily sports newspaper L'Equipe, the former Lille star claimed he is just as good as Messi and Ronaldo were at his age. The Daily Mail translates:
I'm much younger than them. They have won things that I haven't. But I'm as good as they were at my age. If I want to be like them I need to win trophies.
This is a reasonable—if slightly egotistical—claim to make, but is it actually true?
On February 12th, 2014, Eden Hazard is 23 years and 36 days old. Cristiano Ronaldo reached this age on March 13th, 2008 and the younger Leo Messi reached it on July 30th, 2010.
The following table that compares the appearances and goals of all three players at that age:
As you can see, Hazard has played more games than his Ballon d'Or winning adversaries, but he is much less prolific. Messi and Ronaldo averaged a goal roughly every three games, whereas Hazard has found the net roughly every four.
So on this basis, Hazard is not as good as the "monsters."
Let's move on to a comparison of their respective league titles at the age of 23 years and 36 days:
- 1 x Europa League
- 1 x Ligue 1
- 1 x Coupe de France
- 1 x Premier League
- 2 x FA Cup
- 1 x League Cup
- 2 x Champions League
- 4 x La Liga
- 1 x Copa del Rey
- 1 x UEFA Super Cup
- 1 x FIFA Club World Cup
- 1 x Olympic Gold Medal
Hazard's trophy haul is comparable to Ronaldo's at his age, but Messi had clearly achieved far more with Barcelona. At this point, it may be important to remember that the Argentinean is less than three years older than Hazard. Also, Ronaldo was on his way to a season in which he won the Premier League and the Champions League.
Finally, let's consider the highlights of each player's individual achievements at Hazard's age:
- 2 x UNFP Ligue 1 Player of the Year
- 2 x UNFP Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year
- 1 x Premier League PFA Team of the Year
- 1 x UEFA Euro Team of the Tournament
- 2 x UEFA Team of the Year
- 2 x PFA Premier League Team of the Year
- 1 x PFA Young Player of the Year
- 1 x PFA Players' Player of the Year
- 1 x Barclays Player of the Year
- 1 x Ballon d'Or
- 1 x FIFA World Player of the Year
- 1 x UEFA Club Footballer of the Year
- 1 x UEFA Champions League Top Goalscorer
- 1 x LFP Best Player
- 1 x La Liga Player of the Year
- 2 x UEFA Team of the Year
- 4 x Argentinean Footballer of the Year
It appears that Hazard also comes up short in this category, particularly when you consider the fact that Ronaldo was midway through a season in which he was on course for a Premier League Golden Boot, a Ballon d'Or and a FIFA World Player of the Year award.
With his talent and increasing confidence, Hazard has the potential to become one of the world's best players in a few years' time. Currently, however, the comparison with the "monsters" does not appear to be valid.
Is Eden Hazard as good as Messi and Ronaldo were at his age?