This is the era of super-rich, megastar footballers. In some respects, Eden Hazard fit right in.
One of the top suggested Google searches for the mercurial Belgium forward is “Eden Hazard net worth”, with the masses keen to ogle his estimated bank balance alongside those of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.
In 2023, the Sunday Times Rich List put his net worth at £55million. The 32-year-old certainly has not done badly out of a career he called time upon this Tuesday.
It’s obviously hard to cast a multi-millionaire from the football’s era of excess as any sort of folk hero. But let’s have a go anyway, because Hazard has always danced to his own tune. When that soft shoe shuffle was at its very best on the field, the defenders in the Premier League and beyond could not resist being dragged along and taken for a ride.
There was a sense with Hazard, from the end of Jose Mourinho’s second Chelsea tenure to the player’s desolate stint at Real Madrid, that when his football stopped being fun it ceased to have any purpose. Where others planned out their careers for maximum earnings with military precision, the game felt like a pursuit for Hazard, with the ball his muse.
Variations upon the sentiment of “well, you can’t turn down that type of money” have been voiced in defence of any players criticised for taking the riches on offer in the Saudi Pro League. Well, it turns out you can.
Hazard earned €15m annually at Real Madrid. When he reached an agreement to leave the 14-time European champions earlier this year, he rescinded a year’s salary.
Fitness problems have bedevilled Hazard, but where better to recuperate than in a lower-intensity competition earning a fortune? In many ways he ticked most of the Saudi Pro League’s Galactico boxes. But, as Hazard said in his retirement statement: “Now is the time to enjoy my loved ones and have new experiences.”
For a player who has increasingly come to be considered as an example of unfulfilled potential, he boasts an enviable medal collection. He shot to fame after inspiring Lille to a remarkable Ligue 1 and Coupe de France double in 2010/11, paving the way for his switch to Chelsea a year later.
His seven-season stay in west London was bookended by a pair of Europa League triumphs, while he was integral to Chelsea winning the Premier League in 2014/15 and 2016/17, scooping the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards in the former season. He also won the League Cup and FA Cup, scoring the decisive penalty in the latter 2018 final against Manchester United.
Hazard’s final campaign at Stamford Bridge, with Maurizio Sarri as head coach cutting a sharp contrast to the more prosaic approaches of Mourinho and Antonio Conte, was a masterpiece. He became the only Premier League player in the 21st century to register 15 goals and assists in the same season, all the while stuffing the scrapbook with incredible moments.
His solo goal against Liverpool at Anfield that season, somehow barrelling, balletic and brutal all at once, is as good as any scored on an English pitch this century. He saved another slaloming delight for West Ham during the closing weeks, a goal that felt like a final gift to Stamford Bridge and one of the best of his 110 in 352 appearances for the Blues.
Real Madrid cast long, admiring glances at Hazard for most of his time in the Premier League, especially the 2014-2017 period when he had a very solid claim to being the best player in the division. The 2018 World Cup semifinal, where Belgium were beaten 1-0 by France in St. Petersburg despite Hazard’s best efforts, seemed to perversely double up as a Real Madrid audition after news of Ronaldo’s seismic switch from the Santiago Bernabeu to Juventus emerged on the same day.
It remains a “what if” to tantalise. What if Madrid had acquired the super Sarri season Hazard as Ronaldo flounced off to Turin, as opposed to the version who arrived a year later, only for his fitness and — at times, it must be said — focus to desert him?
Over the course of four seasons, Hazard made a grand total 76 appearances for Los Blancos, scoring seven goals and making 12 assists. In truth, it didn’t feel like that many as he cut a marginal figure. As Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid won the Champions League and La Liga double in 2021/22, Hazard was a luxury substitute who was often unused.
His €100m switch to Madrid has a strong case for being the worst transfer in football history, all things considered. But that will not be the abiding memory of a magical player.
“They’re two very different players,” Vincent Kompany told Gary Neville on the Overlap when asked which of his former Belgium teammates, Kevin De Bruyne or Hazard, was the best player of the Red Devils’ golden generation.
“You give Kevin De Bruyne a plan, which he’s getting from Pep [Guardiola], he can have the picture in his mind before he gets the ball and he’s the best player in the world. Nobody can do what he does.
“But if you give Eden Hazard chaos – no organisation no structure – nobody is better than him other than maybe Messi, but that’s the level. They weave their way, they ride a challenge, turn one way, turn the other way. Next thing you know he comes out and his next pass frees up someone because he’s attracted so many around him.”
This gets to the nub of what made Hazard so special and also makes him feel like a throwback, potentially the last of his kind.
If we pick out Premier League players with similar skill profiles to Hazard, the likes of Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and James Maddison, they are all selfless and tenacious pressers without the ball. For Hazard, the ball was everything. You’d often think he looked a pound or two heavier than he should be during pre-season and no one would describe him as a demon in the press.
Academies, who turn out the stars of tomorrow, want Hazard plus something else. But for himself and the footballing public he enraptured, Hazard at his best was more than enough. No plan, playing off the cuff, thriving in and creating the chaos Kompany described.
If it felt right, he did it. Now retirement feels right for Hazard. Elite football has perhaps lost a little bit of something it might never completely get back.