Eden Hazard. A man whose name spells both divine intervention and horrific misfortune. Blessed with speed, trickery, bravery and willingness to spur his team ahead, he's sure to be one of those players you'd remember if you ever watched him play. “The boy's a bit special” is an expression used in Britain about certain young footballers who manage to captivate crowds and hold them in the palm of their hand. Welcome to the garden of Eden.
Much like yourselves I noticed Hazard from both playing Football Manager, and watching his surging runs and excellent trickery on YouTube. Having been tricked into believing that Kerlon (the player known for his seal dribbling a few years back) was the greatest thing since sliced bread some time ago, I decided to check hm out. I was left in awe. Not only did Hazard bring an exciting repertoire of tricks and skills, he also made use of them like no other player I've seen in recent history. He passed defenders like they were cones on a training field, played low crosses into the box, or fired off with both his left and his right. He was an absolute phenomenon.
Normally placed on either the left or the right wing, Hazard enjoys to wander a lot into the center, and often switches wings with the player on the opposite side. What often peaks my attention is Hazard's understanding of the game, and how it has developed over the years. From having been labeled a “smaller copy of Cristiano Ronaldo”, Hazard has certainly shown that there's more to his game than just a million step-overs and an attitude. He leaves defenders for dead at his own will, he cuts into the box, he flicks the ball into the path of a fellow team while splitting the defence open. What amazes me is that you can compare him to so many players. He's got the flair and finesse of a Cristiano Ronaldo, the sheer drive and determination of a Lionel Messi, and he's quickly developing the vision and passing abilities of David Silva. Saying that he's as good as them would be an over-exaggeration worthy of an award, but he certainly has the potential to become as good as those players mentioned. Going back to where he enjoys playing, it seems that he's more suited as a winger coming in from either the left or the right and receives the ball with momentum at his back before he rushes on to the nearest defender. The real threat about Hazard, I think, is that you never have any idea what he's going to do. He can play the defence-splitting pass, cross the ball both high and low, take you on, or blast one into the top corner. Much like his surname often proves, you have absolutely no idea how it will strike and what the effect of it is going to be. All you know is that it's going to hurt you one way or another.
The downside to Hazard is that he needs to get going early on in matches for him to have a good game. I mentioned his momentum, and that speaks volumes about him as a player. If he's tackled hard early on in the game, or his defenders leave him no space, he often seems to hit a bad spell and commits more errors in attack than what he'd usually do. This is certainly something that comes with his tender age of 21, but certainly something that he needs to better. I'd also like to point out his physique as something that hasn't impressed me a lot. He plays in a fairly physical league and has done well there, but I do believe that if he was to make a serious impact in England, with his style of playing, he'd need to put on a few pounds of muscle. In that regard you can compare to a certain Portuguese who had to overcome the same obstacle.
In terms of where he'd fit in at United I believe the claims made by Dimitar Berbatov's agent, Emil Danchev, says it all; Ferguson wants to build a team based on pace. Hazard offers that in terms of how he handles the ball, but also in terms of his quick orientation on the pitch. The latter being something he can still work on, a counter attack led by Eden Hazard with a bursting Rooney through the middle and a Nani/Antonio Valencia coming in from one of the sides would be nothing short of intimidating against any team. Hazard's ability to interchange positions in attack would also give United a whole variety in terms of unpredictability. Let’s say Rooney would feature behind Welbeck with Hazard on the left and Nani on the right. All those four players could, to some degree, play in every one of those four positions up front. That will keep defenders guessing, and keep United's attacking options limitless. Not to mention how much quality you'd have in regards to pace, firepower, drive and the ability for one of those four to create a moment of magic and win United the game. However, there have been some rumblings about Ferguson wanting Hazard to feature in a deeper role, slotting into the role now occupied by Paul Scholes. I'm led to believe that Ferguson sees Hazard as a replacement for the Paul Scholes who'd penetrate the box and come high upfield with the ball. That would ruin much of Hazard's game. He loves to wander across the pitch, but his level of understanding the game, as well as his passing range, is not good enough to occupy the center of United's midfield. Though it is an interesting thought, it gives me flashbacks to the time Anderson, then playing a trequartista-type role at Porto, was brought in in an attempt to recreate the box-to-box midfielder United had looked for since Roy Keane. As much as it is an interesting thought, spending £30-35m on a player whose main qualities are further up the pitch would seem absolutely clueless.
To sum it up quickly; Hazard will become a superstar in a few years. The definite potential and drive won't allow him to become any less. His speed, his ability to pass defenders with ease, his trickery, understanding of the game and slowly improving passing range would offer United a whole new dimension in attack. However, he's a “streaky” player, meaning he needs to stay hot in order to create something. He goes missing if he's not involved, and if pressured off the ball. As mentioned, at the age of 21, that is something he'll be able to eradicate as he becomes more experienced. He'd certainly be a handful if signed by Sir Alex. It's also worth mentioning that Hazard has labeled United a club “he'd be very interested in” should the chance arrive, and was humbled by Ferguson's appearance as Lille played Lyon at the Stade de Gerland. “It's an honor being watched by one of the best, if not the best, managers in the world.” There may be some hurdles in the way, but if he was to sign, it would prove hazardous for defenders across England, and could ultimately lead to Old Trafford being labeled “the Garden of Eden”.
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