It’s quite a trick – and a fantastic accomplishment – to guide dark horses in an international tournament to success, or even just to the final. It’s quite another to be labelled a nation’s talisman and undeniable best player yet disappear in a blur of red with such stunning regularity.
It’s facile to say I’m bored, but I’m going to go with it anyway. I’m bored with Eden Hazard. I’ve been bored for much of the final third of last season, and at the World Cup in Brazil, where Belgium do have an enviable band of attacking talent, I expected more – at the very least I expected something.
The obvious go-to point is Jose Mourinho’s comments about Hazard following Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid last season. The Chelsea manager singled out the Belgian international for his work rate and lack of willingness to sacrifice himself for the team, which helped facilitate one of Atletico’s three goals at Stamford Bridge.
But I’m not really interested in those comments. What is more applicable to the current situation is what Mourinho parted with back in August at the start of last season, saying “I want more responsibility and more ambition. When you are a top talent you can’t waste that talent.” International coach Marc Wilmots recently echoed those thoughts by saying, “he can do a lot for us, everyone knows that. Now I’m waiting to see it.”
Hazard has done very little to announce himself on the world stage alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, James Rodriguez or even Thomas Muller, all of whom have been vital for the progress of their respective nations at the World Cup.
Instead, the focus has been on others. Kevin de Bruyne has been Belgium’s creative midfield force; Jan Vertonghen has bombed up and down the left flank; Romelu Lukaku decided the quarter-final game against the USA; and even Marouane Fellaini has gotten himself a goal.
But it’s starting to be a worry for Hazard, who hasn’t so much stalled through inability but rather what appears to be disinterest.
It’s one thing to struggle in a system, it’s another to go missing and fail to find ways into the game. Belgium could have beaten Argentina. The South Americans aren’t without their own faults, and Hazard alone has enough talent to have decided the game for his side.
I’m not completely buying into the idea that Hazard’s game must be refined through hard work at both ends of the pitch. It’s desirable and can be incredibly effective, but he’s a player who’s the best for both club and country, at least based on last season’s Chelsea squad. I’m not a believer in the ‘luxury’ tag often placed on players that good. A lack of defensive work seems to necessitate such a label, at least in English football.
Hazard’s biggest problem is his lack of consistency. There are simply too many big gaps between goals and assists for the Belgian, and even good performances on the whole. Why shouldn’t he rack up 30 goals over a season? As a 20-year-old he was netting 20 in France. He’s 23 now, and with such talent, isn’t the natural progression to see an increase in goals? He’s good enough, I have no doubt about that. Not Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo good, but those are players from other worlds with stats that are pretty much unmatchable.
On the whole, Belgium failed to live up to the hype of the hipsters’ favourite at this World Cup. Though even if we’re putting aside all that fashionably unfashionable business, they still had enough talent to convince far more than they did. Maybe they’re not as good collectively as many thought. Or maybe the forgettable performances can be solely attributed to a star player who failed to turn up and add the finishing touches to a group who aren’t really lacking in any area of the pitch.