Who’s This Week’s Hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero has been Chelsea’s best player for years (or ever) and is the sort of footballer who can light up even the darkest day. A comet blazing a trail. The sort of footballer who sees the whole of the moon when others merely see the crescent. Blessed with a quicksilver touch as light as the caress of a lover’s breath. He accelerates powerfully, is surprisingly quick over short distances and, on the quiet, is built like a 5′ 8″ bollard made from wrought iron and horse meat, making him very hard to knock off the ball. A game changer all on his own, he has dragged his side almost single-handedly through many games – many seasons even.
On top of having these stellar footballing gifts, he has really lovely eyes and often wears an attractive, somewhat arrogant, somewhat shy expression as if to say, “no, I don’t know how I do it either, good though, isn’t it?”
Seems to go about the business of being one of the best players on earth currently kissing the turf with his holy feet in a very understated manner off the pitch.
What Have They Done To Deserve This Then?
In Baku on Wednesday night, he did what Eden does: he took apart the opposition. His first was a penalty and oh, what a typical example of his spot kick art form it was. Standing stock still two strides from the ball, waiting to see which way the keeper goes and all but rolling it in the other side. That takes massive self-belief and courage to have such confidence in your own ability to do the job, even after high-profile misses. Normal humans would blast the thing, not craft it.
His second goal was more classic Hazard. A tight turn with the ball, then running powerfully and directly at the defence, beating a couple, laying it off wide, keeping his pace up into the box and slotting home the cross. It all looks so smooth and perfect, so irresistible in every way. Neat, flowing, contained and yet explosive: machine-like in its ruthless efficiency. You never get the impression that he is out of control or has no idea what he’s doing. He seems to command both the ball and the space with an unmatched imperiousness.
The assist for Pedro’s crucial second goal showed another side of his game. Collecting the ball in the centre circle, he lays it off and sprints wide past his own player. The ball he gets back is a little too pacey and long, but with one stretch of his leg, he snaffles it into his magnetic feet, takes a second touch, eyes up, constantly aware of the unfolding action inside, almost dancing over the ball, not touching it but always in control of it, toying with it like a cat with a mouse. Just his third touch since laying it off in the centre circle 50 yards back is to deliver it onto Pedro’s foot with perfect timing, allowing him to sweep it into the net. Absolutely ruthless and though it all looks so simple, it is high skill delivered with maximum lean efficiency, the ball doing all the work under his masterly discipline.
As an aside, to me Eden is the player that Joe Cole should have been and possibly could have been if he’d grown up in a different country in a different era. I’ve always thought they even look related – cousins, perhaps. Everything we routinely see the Belgian doing, Joey used to do when he was 16 or 17. I saw him tear teams apart single-handedly at that level. He had vision, close control, a burst of pace and the ability to dribble past any amount of players. He was far more slight of course and lacked the proud bull buttocks that Hazard carries, but in so many other ways, they’re so similar. The fact Joe was all but done by 28 and Eden is moving to Madrid at that age tells much of the story of the failure of English football culture in previous decades.
To call Chelsea a one-man team is to oversimplify the situation but he is without doubt their most important player. He seems to be the gas poker in their fire (one for the kids there); he makes the game look so easy, and has as much impact individually as he does on the collective. Players who make you sit up and hold your breath as they receive the ball are few and far between but the feeling that you cannot take your eyes off Hazard is omnipresent.
Anyone Grumpy About It?
Arsenal fans must’ve felt a bit sick as he scored the third and fourth but by then Chelsea had taken the game by the scruff of its neck and bossed them out of the match. That being said, while you feel sick that you lost, losing to a genius always takes some of the sting out of it. It is impossible not to admire Eden. He’s just too good.
Chelsea fans obviously don’t want to see him go but seven seasons at one club in this day and age is above average loyalty and it would be churlish to think bad of him for moving on.
His manager must also be delighted he turned it on, so as to stick it right up to his own critics, much good it will probably do him. As I wrote in my piece about Sarri on Monday, once sections of the English press take against you, there is rarely a redemption arc.
What Was The Media Response?
The Daily Mail led with ‘Madrid-bound Chelsea maestro enjoys perfect finale as he stars in Europa League triumph’, no doubt pleased that his move will mean one less foreigner in England.
Matt Law in the Telegraph leads on a bit of grammar analysis: ‘Hazard used the past tense to claim that he and Chelsea “did something amazing together.”‘
The Express made a lot out of not much with ‘Chelsea star David Luiz reveals who could replace Eden Hazard after Real Madrid move’. When did the word ‘reveal’ replace the word ‘talk’? Annoying. Oh and obviously, he doesn’t, largely because he doesn’t – and can’t – know.
Football.London gives itself a get-out-of-jail card by making judicious use of inverted commas in its headline. ‘Former Chelsea star Cesc Fabregas ‘confirms’ Eden Hazard’s Real Madrid transfer,’ apparently.
It’s left to Dominic Fifield in The Guardian to state it correctly: ‘Chelsea win Europa League after Eden Hazard inspires thrashing of Arsenal’, which is exactly what happened.
Also in The Guardian, Jonathan Wilson’s piece, ‘Would letting Maurizio Sarri leave really be sensible for Chelsea?’, is a fine dissection of the Chelsea Way.
What The People Say
If you love football, Hazard is hard not to enjoy. That being said, he’s not always been the apple of the Chelsea fans’ eyes. Indeed, one considered ‘Iazzard’ to be a Rat or possibly a Bat not long ago.
But among the rest, his talents have brightened up many an afternoon.
Let’s start with a haiku someone sent in:
Slaloms like a stitch
Holding the team together
Full of speed, spring – craft
Beautiful. Now for the rest of you:
‘I’m the commentator for Chelsea TV and have seen every game he’s played for the club. Getting to talk over him doing amazing stuff on a football pitch might be the high watermark of my career. He’s a genius. Lovely bloke too.’
‘I often say about the great players that, if you put a generic silhouette over them watching them play, you can tell who the player is underneath. With his close control dribbling style, you can do this with Hazard.’
‘At his best, he’s without doubt the most enjoyable player to watch in the Premier League. Maybe second only to Messi in world football in that regard.’
‘Best big game player of the last five years or so. Shows up pretty much every time. Chelsea would have been a husk without him in that time.’
‘Not a Chelsea fan, but genuinely the one player in the league I’d happily pay money to watch. Chelsea could be in a whole world of trouble next season.’
‘Wonderful player, part of the Belgian golden generation that really should have won something by now. And according to the advert, likes a cheeky biscuit or two.’
‘Absolute privilege to have had him at Chelsea. Massive bum, quality smirk, amazing magnetic/glue feet, wound up lots of clubs and fans by deciding very late in the day which club he’d join…there’s a lot love.’
‘To go from brilliance to immortality, he needs to cut the slight tendency to go to ground easily out of his game.’
‘I think he’s good.’
‘Cannot wait to never have to see him play against Liverpool again.’
‘Hazard has one unique character trait that I rarely find in common players nowadays, let alone a flair one. If you noticed, he gets whacked all the time, but almost never make a fuzz or showing strong reactions, nevermind playacting or screaming at refs. He just gets on with the game.’
‘He just seems to love football. Always seems to have a smile. I know it’s cliche – but he’d certainly be playing over the park if he hadn’t made it!’
‘The best footballer I’ve ever seen live. His performance in Chelsea’s 4-3 win at Sunderland five years ago was singularly worth our decade of largely hanging on in the Premier League.’
‘Sublime vision, plays like he has fun despite being kicked more than anyone. I love the little guy.’
‘Possibly the only player who scared the living day lights out of me whenever we played Chelsea. I just knew something was gonna happen when he was in and around the box. Fine fine player.’
‘Something that often gets overlooked is that, as his post-match interview trolling of Spurs showed (twice), he is also 100% in tune with Chelsea fans’ sentiments. Yet another reason no one can resent him leaving, and all wish him well to a man.’
‘I’ve been counting how many times I wish I didn’t take him out of my fantasy team. I’m on 537.’
‘One of the best players we’ve ever seen in this country. He has everything a modern attacker needs. Strength, speed, deft of touch, wonderful vision, great finishing and technique. It’s a shame he’s leaving this country because he’s been a pleasure to watch at times.’
‘Hazard is the Premier League’s best player of the decade ahead of Silva because at his peak, he’s more lethal. Always delivers on big stage and against better defence. Be it Chelsea or Belgium. It’s been a pleasure. Coming from a United fan.’
‘He has very wide hips and a large bum.’
‘One of the nicest players in the Prem. Comes across really well in any interview and clearly has a lot of ambition in a very humbling way which doesn’t irk the fans. Good luck to him.’
‘Given the fees paid for others recently, 100 million quid seems very reasonable for him, which is simultaneously a credit to him and a worrying indictment of modern transfer fees.’
‘A game that sums him up as a player: brilliant enough for just half of it that you both think he’s the best player in the world and could be even better.’
‘Skill, balance, strength and a bit of cheek. As much as he has hurt my team (Spurs) over the years, I’ll miss the wee bugger.’
What Does The Future Hold?
Sad in some ways that it is Real Madrid he’s heading to because, well, is it just me or does leaving to play for Madrid just seem like a bit of a cliche now? Certainly predictable. And when you look at how many players go to one of the two primo Spanish sides and don’t match the form they had before the move, it can be far from the pinnacle it is sold as in advance. That being said he’s spent seven years at one of football’s forever in-turmoil clubs, playing for six different managers, every so often doing so to get one of those managers the sack, so the hysteria that seems to go hand-in-hand with being a Madridista will be nothing new to him.
However, if he wants a new challenge, surely it’d be better to go to Ajax, Dortmund or Atleti and fire them to European greatness? The path to the Madrid door seems as over-worn as the path out of it.
The farewells he’s been getting in the last couple of days have been a bit odd. He’s just going to play in Spain, he’s not retiring or leaving Earth to play on Uranus. Some of the ‘we’ll miss watching him’ comments seem to suggest that even though every game he plays in Spain will be available on television, bothering to watch them is somehow an effort which is beyond the pale. Perhaps a further indication of the narrowness of some English observers. ‘We’ are not losing him because there is no ‘we’, is there? There is only ‘us’ and there is only one Eden Hazard.