As the best player in the Premier League’s best team, it would be remiss to suggest anyone other than Eden Hazard should be named PFA Player of the Year.
The Belgian’s contribution to Chelsea’s title procession is undeniable, epitomised by his recent match-winner against Manchester United and impressive tally of 13 goals and eight assists.
Hazard’s attributes are told by more than mere numbers. Gifted with the same low centre of gravity evident in many of the game’s greatest players – although not normally so accentuated in the buttocks – he exhibits a devastating combination of speed and skill to glide in from the left and slalom between defenders.
It is this ability to quickly take hold of a situation and surprise his opponents that has drawn recognition from Zinedine Zidane, who spoke highly of Hazard’s talents this week.
“I enjoy everything he does on the pitch,” Zidane told FIFA.com, encouraging speculation of interest from Real Madrid.
“I like the way he carries himself, that decisive streak in him and the fact that he’s improving every year. He can still get better too, and I think he’s a big reason why Chelsea are top of the table.”
Despite this, there is a nagging sense of frustration surrounding Hazard that has long been difficult to pinpoint.
Damned by inevitable comparisons with super-human duo Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, it isn’t always easy to judge the 24-year-old on his own merits, while rumours have persisted about a questionable attitude.
But the lingering indifference is only partly associated to these factors. Perhaps somewhat perversely, as his impact at Chelsea has grown alongside the Blues tightening their grip at the top, the reason for a peculiar dissatisfaction has become more apparent: Jose Mourinho is to blame.
Mourinho is holding Hazard back. By preaching absolute unity and crushing almost every hint of individualism in his Chelsea team, the manager has shackled his star player, limiting the forward’s potential to explode like Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United in 2006/07.
The foundations were laid last season, when it could be claimed that Mourinho used Juan Mata as a pawn in his plan to expedite Hazard’s team ethic and tactical discipline. A plan that failed to achieve the success the manager intended.
“Eden is the kind of player that is not so mentally ready to look back to his left-back and to leave his life for him,” said Mourinho after Chelsea’s defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final.
“If you see the first goal of Atletico you completely understand where the mistake was and why we conceded that goal. The perfect team at the top level cannot make these kinds of mistakes.”
But this quest for team perfection has potentially damaging consequences for Hazard’s personal progress and ambition to compete for the Ballon d’Or.
A player of rare talent whose defensive flaws should arguably be indulged for the greater good – in terms of aesthetics and pursuing points – the Belgian’s skill is stymied by his manager’s pragmatism.
There are some players who shouldn’t be bound by overbearing instruction and remit, and Hazard clearly falls into this category. Under a different coach, or at a different club, we may eventually witness the extreme escalation in output that should have coincided with the winger leading Chelsea to the title this year.
We are not left wondering what else Hazard can offer; we know he has much more to give. But he needs to be afforded the opportunity to realise his true potential, and under Mourinho that may not be possible.