So Eden Hazard’s World Cup has come to an end – after Belgium’s defeat at the hands of Argentina and Lionel Messi. It’s a disappointing end to a largely disappointing tournament for the player – even if the Belgian team as a whole have largely lived up to expectations by reaching the quarter-finals.
It’s fair to say that Hazard has not lit up the World Cup in the way he would have hoped – and certainly not in the way Messi, Neymar and James Rodriguez have managed to do. There’ve been a few moments of pure genius, such as the way he created the winning goal in the team’s opening game, and the pass that freed Kevin De Bruyne for the opening goal against USA, but they have been too few and too far between.
It’s not all been his fault. Bizarrely, Belgian boss Marc Wilmots insisted on playing him out wide on the left, instead of letting him try to dictate play in the centre of the pitch. The lack of possession he received there had a direct correlation to the lack of influence he was able to exert on the game.
Furthermore, when he has managed to beat defenders and make space, he has largely been frustrated by the inability of the players around him – particularly Belgium’s misfiring strikers Romelu Lukaku and Divock Origi – to capitalise on his supply.
However, the truly great players find a way of making the game revolve around them. Hazard failed to do this, seeming hardly bothered that his role was circumscribed and that the matches were largely passing him by.
Ironically, it was in the game that knocked out Belgium out that Wilmots did finally deploy Hazard in the centre of midfield – but even there, however, his contribution was negligible as he and the Belgian attack were contained by the blanket Argentine defence. With little space to showcase his skills, Hazard was largely reduced to the periphery. He didn’t play badly, but he did little to justify his billing as one of the potential stars of the tournament. Being substituted for the enthusiastic but limited Nacer Chadli was an extra ignominy.
Is this a bad thing for Chelsea? Not necessarily. He will encounter few defences as clever and compact as Argentina’s. And he returns to London with a lot still to prove. Jose Mourinho has continually touted him as a player who can be one of the game’s superstars. Yet on the sport’s biggest stage Hazard was unable to live up to his manager’s words. He still has to show the world that he really is as good as he’s made out to be.
It might also mean that his head is not continually turned by clubs like PSG and Real Madrid, whose attention could be distracted by players who have shined a bit brighter in Brazil – Colombia’s James Rodriguez and Germany’s Toni Kroos for example. If Hazard is not constantly being wooed with offers of sky-high salaries, he may spend more time focusing on how Mourinho can turn him into a better player.