He dances on the ball. A flick to the left, a slight touch to the right. Defenders fall down, bowing to the ebullient, lively, controlling force as it moves past, ever closer to the net. They foul, they flop, they pray to their God of choice that he will just play the ball away, preserving what little chance they have at victory.
Eden Hazard was Belgium’s belated New Year’s gift in 1991. Wrapped in a blanket as he left the hospital in the small town of La Louvière on January 7, 1991, the nurses, and no one else for that matter, quite understood the gift they had brought into the world or how that bundle would reshape Belgian football.
Hazard has been the face of Chelsea and Belgium’s national team for five years, and in the process he has created the complex image of the soccer superstar – in turn kicking a young ballboy, who, at a visiting arena, was attempting to preserve the home side’s slim advantage, and leading his club to a league title and his country to its first World Cup semifinal in a generation.
Each time he takes the team bus to a hostile arena, he must prepare for shouts of “soft” and “weak.” But that antipathy has not stopped him from collecting the Premier League Young Player of the Year and Player of the Year trophies.
At the end of the day, Eden Hazard lives firmly at the pinnacle of international soccer. And it was always going to be that way.
Growing up, he did not have a friend next door, only a soccer pitch. His father, a professional soccer player himself, never took it easy on any of his sons. When he was three, Eden was destroyed on their pitch by his own dad. When he was six, it was the same way. But, that scoreline would not hold for long. Soon, he outpaced his father, taking him, and his three younger brothers, down as shot after shot made a soft “wshhh” as they kissed the back of the net. His brothers, Thorgan and Cerce, now professional footballers themselves, had to make the most difficult admission of their young lives: they had to admit that they were being bested by their own kin.
Soon, whispers of the name of the golden boy with the touch of a wizard, who possessed an unrelenting, composed movement, could be heard throughout the Belgian countryside. Excited whispers of a preteen legend became outward gossip of a young man, and soon became roars of delight in November 2008 as Hazard, aged only 17 years, took his first steps onto the pitch for the Belgian national team.
When Eden Hazard takes down Premier League defender after Premier League defender en route to another awe-inspiring solo goal, he might as well be defeating Thorgan, back on that pitch so many miles, and an entire sea, away.
Hazard’s bustling playing style, with the ball seemingly always attached to a string at his feet, has kept him employed at the highest levels of football.
With Eden, the Belgians are back. With Eden, a golden generation is ready to rule European football.