Jose Mourinho knows exactly how to make headlines and motivate his players at the same time, and there is no greater example of that than his latest comments about Eden Hazard being one down from Lionel Messi and one up from Cristiano Ronaldo.
Calling Hazard better than the Portuguese winger and current Ballon d’Or holder made people sit up, spit their drinks out and rush to offer their views on social media, and prompted a few raised eyebrows as well, but his comments certainly seemed to work when it came to motivating Hazard, with the player scoring a goal against Barcelona that you could watch time and time again – in fact, it is a goal the Catalan club themselves would be proud of.
Trying to elevate Hazard’s play to the next level is one thing, and was one factor behind the comments, but when you actually look at Mourinho’s remarks in the entirety, and not just as sensational parts of quotes, they are understandable.
He claimed he values team achievements over that of individuals, and last term, Hazard led Chelsea to the double – and Ronaldo won nothing at all, well bar the Ballon d’Or, for being the best player on the planet over the last 12 months. And he was, until 2015 hit and Messi decided to go up another level, which most people thought was physically impossible.
Hazard has a long way to go before he reaches the levels of either of the La Liga stars, who have won everything possible with their clubs and as individuals, but with Jose Mourinho as his manager, you wouldn’t put at least the former past him, and given Mourinho’s seeming determination to make Hazard into an even better player season on season, you wouldn’t rule out the latter either.
The winger scored 19 goals in all competitions last time out, and there was no denying he was Chelsea’s main creative outlet. Hazard’s talent going forward has never been in question, even by the rather hard to please Jose Mourinho, but one thing that the Chelsea boss has drawn attention to in the past has been Hazard’s lack of work ethic when it comes to tracking back.
Last season represented a marked improvement on anything we had seen before from the Belgian international, both going forward and in terms of his efforts to track back and help out his teammates.
Hazard is lucky to have a player like Cesar Azpilicueta behind him, given the left back is never caught out of position and is the best one on one defender in Europe, but his workrate has improved tenfold, showing yet again that when Mourinho speaks, players listen. They listen, apply it and become better players because of it.
Only a fool would try and claim that Hazard is on the same level as Messi or Ronaldo – they are from a different planet, where 50 plus goals is the norm for them each season, and anything less is considered a failure, but Hazard is getting closer and closer to being the one player on the level down from them, and should be up there with the duo when it comes to the Ballon d’Or nominations next time round.
Another similarity between Chelsea’s Hazard and Ronaldo and Messi is his ability to withstand kicks from opposition players time and time again, and hardly ever miss games through injury.
Hazard is seemingly made of strong stuff, and it is a good job, especially when you think about tackles made on the player last time out – the Stoke City experience was handed tenfold to the player, with Phil Bardsley putting in a disgraceful challenge that could have easily broken his leg. Even Barcelona defender Jordi Alba resorted to kicking the player during the pre-season friendly when the winger scored his sublime goal.
Defenders do not know what to do with Hazard. They literally cannot stop him from using his trickery unless they chop him down, but even then he brings something to the team, with a free kick or penalty being awarded – and we all know how good Hazard is at taking those. Better than Messi and arguably Ronaldo as well. He does not miss, and even if he does on the rare occasion, he heads in the rebound.
Mourinho may have been making a point about Hazard playing for the team – and using the pressure of elevating him above Ronaldo to get a rise out of the player and take his career to the next level – but even the Chelsea manager knows that he is not as good as Ronaldo or Messi. Yet.
The duo are once in a lifetime players, perhaps the best we will ever see, so to claim Hazard will reach their level is a long shot, but with Mourinho as his manager and the best yet to come from the winger, you’d be stupid to rule it out.