“Eden Hazard was better than Cristiano Ronaldo,” Jose Mourinho said at a press conference last year, just before the start of the season, when he was Chelsea’s manager. The Belgian winger scored 19 goals (and 11 assists) in the 2014-15 season and 17 goals in 2013-2014 season under Jose Mourinho and was voted Chelsea’s ‘Player of the year’ for two consecutive seasons. He also won PFA Player of the Year in 2014-15 season and helped Chelsea in winning the Premiere League trophy.
The next year, in 2015-2016 season, everything changed for the ‘best young talent in the world’ as Mourinho described him once. The footballer went goalless for consecutive 30 games and ended with only 6 in his bag by the end. Hazard’s apparent loss of form was blamed by Chelsea fans as the penultimate reason for the Champions’ disastrous Premiere League title defence and for firing of Jose Mourinho.
After his ‘worst season’ Hazard said in an interview that he should not be blamed for Mourinho’s sacking from Chelsea football club.
Other side of the Coin
Many football pundits think from a completely opposite perspective and argue that Mourinho was to be blamed for Hazard’s loss of form in the 2015-2016 season. The Portuguese manager kept questioning Belgian’s work rate. In spite of him constantly demanding to play a central role at No. 10, Mourinho kept Hazard as a winger as he wanted to him to contribute to his defensive duties and run down the flank.
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“Mourinho put too much pressure on him. And when he didn’t deliver, he became angry. He’s pushed him from heaven to hell.” Chelsea scout Piet de Visser, 81, recently said in an interview.
Visser also said that the ‘Special One’ expected impossible feats from the player. “Mourinho wanted to make a better version of Messi or Ronaldo out of Hazard. Impossible,” he said.
Hazard’s return to form
After a great Euro Cup tournament for Belgium in 2016, in which Hazard not only served the team as the captain (due to absence of Vincent Kompany), but also showed his leadership qualities by scoring goals, the winger announced his return to form.
Under the leadership of new manager Antonio Conte, Hazard seems to be finding a resurrection in league football as well. The Italian manger has given free reigns to Hazard to play between no. 10 and striker position, and Hazard seems to be enjoying his game. He has already scored 3 goals in 8 Premiere League fixtures for Chelsea.
Mourinho has also acknowledged Hazard’s form under the Italian manager. In an interview last month, Mourinho said that players and managers might not see eye-to-eye at times but it does not mean they hate each other for life. “I read something, for example, that Eden [Hazard] is in love with Antonio [Conte, Chelsea manager] and was not in love with me. But he’s not my enemy, it’s just feeling, that’s fine. I am happy for him,” he said.
Igniting the tensions between the two, Hazard just a few weeks ago, took a dig at the Manchester United manager while praising his new boss.
“I have always been the same player but Conte knows how to treat players having played at the highest level himself,” Hazard said, hinting that Chelsea’s former manager Mourinho has never been a football player and might be missing out on certain nuances about the game.
Chelsea’s defensive woes
With Hazard playing more attacking role, and in the absence of captain John Terry due to injury, the team found itself struggling in the first few games when defending. Gary Cahill, César Azpilicueta and the returning David Luiz displayed disastrous performance against rivals Arsenal when the Gunners defeated them 3-0 in the London Derby last month.
But with the inclusion of former Sunderland center-back Marcus Alonso as a left back, who described himself as the “the defensive master” and reports suggesting that Terry will be fit to play against United, Hazard will enjoy more freedom to take his game forward and at times play ahead of Diego Costa, without having to worry about his defensive duties.
The bitter-sweet relations between Mourinho and Hazard will be put to test when United takes on Chelsea and both will try to take one up on each other. But with his talent, Hazard might spoil the party for the ‘Special One’ at his former home, the Stamford Bridge.